The Year 1905

Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Shostakovich
Symphony No.11 in G minor, Op.103 (The Year 1905)

Stephen Hough (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Yakov Kreizberg


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 15 June, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Something of a stranger to these shores since he left the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Yakov Kreizberg was a very welcome visitor to the Barbican Hall for this concert with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Conducting both works from memory, Kreizberg chose stereo-style seating for the orchestra – that is, cellos to his right and double basses behind them. The timpani were raised high on the left with some room between the woodwinds so that wind and brass seemed biased to the Kreizberg’s right. This positioning gave a visual strength to the timpani part, especially in the Shostakovich. Harps and celesta nestled below the timpani, behind the first violins. The rest of the percussion was behind the horns at the back of the platform, including the bells for the final pages of the Shostakovich.

Intriguingly it was the second time this week that a Barbican Hall concert had married a Beethoven piano concerto to a Shostakovich symphony. But where Lang Lang – in the Fourth with the Rotterdam Phil and Gergiev – had left me stone-cold at his display of accuracy without showing any perception about the music he was playing, Stephen Hough and Kreizberg created a freshly-minted world out of the ‘Emperor’.

I remember Kreizberg and John Lill in this concerto at the Royal Festival Hall with the Bournemouth Symphony and finding the resultant collaboration big-boned and, in a word, Russian. Here – in a partnership that is obviously well-honed – it was more musically cogent with vivid orchestral detail combined with Stephen Hough’s ever-sensitive touch. The balance between piano and orchestra was also well realised.

Kreizberg’s whiplash baton and score-less control can seem a little mannered, but he gets orchestras to play with a distinctive style: brittle and forceful when necessary, but also with great attention to balancing chords. Both facets were on display in Shostakovich’s Symphony No.11.

The listing in the programme of the four movements became rather superfluous in Kreizberg’s performance, with the LSO led by guest Svetlin Roussev (a member of the Rachmaninov Piano Trio and Concertmaster of Radio France’s Philharmonic Orchestra). Kreizberg conducted the work seamlessly, like an extended symphonic poem, with the main themes – the slow Palace Square music to open and the two distinctive, frenetic marches that follow – blurring the listed movements. It gripped in a different way to Haitink’s skill in building the musical architecture (displayed two nights earlier with the Vienna Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony).

The LSO played with colour and brilliance and, while the opening’s solitude was not as hushed as it can be, there was a huge dynamic range. The final assault on the ears, with three bells adding ear-splitting tones, seemed to come to an end so abruptly, leaving only the bells’ reverberations dying away, string players with bows frozen in mid-air (off the strings) and Kreizberg’s arms akimbo, as if caught in a photograph.

It was, quite literally, stunning.

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