Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 9 February, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
If concerts should offer illuminating juxtapositions, either Beethoven’s Eroica or Fifth symphonies would have been the apposite coupling to Strauss’s blockbuster, which brought Emmanuel Krivine a resounding success in his LSO concert debut. One notes his elaborate conducting technique. So many hand signals might cause a traffic accident and there wasn’t always a commensurate aural response from the LSO in Beethoven’s dance symphony, as Wagner dubbed it.
Krivine’s interesting reading of Beethoven 7 was encapsulated in the slow introduction through masculine/feminine contrasts, swift despatch, chamber-like balances and refined soundworld, a ’French’ response intimating Berlioz, not unreasonable historically, and, given Krivine’s rhythmic delineation and ’coolness’, Stravinsky’s neo-classicism. Lacking, apart from some repeats in the Scherzo (curious given their observance in the outer movements), was earthiness and heft. With a foundation of just five double basses and by not doubling Beethoven’s woodwind pairs, Krivine’s within-parameters textural lucidity and tempo-fleetness proved limiting across the four movements. Terpsichorean connotations restricted, and with Dionysus blackballed, velocity and sobriety didn’t quite gel.
Conversely, Heldenleben was fabulous. It’s easy to disservice Strauss by making his music portentous and saturated – something to wallow in. Krivine avoided all the pitfalls. Painstakingly balanced, seemingly incidental details were revealed afresh and pertinent. In viewing the work as one large structure, Krivine never allowed any sagging to intrude or distend. Episodes were through-related – from the confident, here impulsive opening (Strauss as hero) to the reflective coda that glowed, rocked contentedly and enjoyed dignity. Gordan Nikolitch’s violin solo was an exemplary portrayal of the hero’s seductive, feisty and capricious partner (Frau Strauss). The battle scene was tremendous in its collisions, Krivine demonstrating how cacophony is achieved not cacophony itself, and this might have been a lifetime’s opportunity to register ALL the self-quotations that follow.
A compelling, often extraordinary performance, Krivine and the LSO, without sacrificing impact, emotion or amplitude, displayed Strauss as translucent-sounding – impressionistic, even, when harps added swirls to the lovers’ consummation – and creatively ingenuous. One of the finest Heldenlebens I’m ever likely to hear. What a shame neither LSO Live nor Radio 3 was present.