LPO / Krivine, Royal Festival Hall, London
Tuesday 29 January 2008
It's the mark of a truly proactive music director that their presence is felt even when they are not conducting. Vladimir Jurowski's first season in charge of the London Philharmonic has seen shrewd programming and some real collector's items – like Alexander Zemlinsky's tone poem Die Seejungfrau ("The Mermaid"), enthusiastically exhumed here under Emmanuel Krivine.
Hans Christian Andersen was the source for Zemlinsky's work, though his take on the fish-out-of-water tale was thought to say more about his brief romance with Gustav Mahler's wife, Alma, than it did about the Little Mermaid's infatuation with the Prince. As we descend into Zemlinsky's watery world of luminous colours and woodwind-flecked refracted light, there's a lot of Strauss here, and the ultra-romantic iridescence of Korngold to come suggests that the hero of Strauss's tone poem Ein Heldenleben (which Zemlinsky revered) may yet take the helm of the latter's Sea Hawk.
It's an exceedingly good wallow – and, even if the musical argument is prone to being submerged beneath the colour, the themes are sufficiently evocative to lend the piece mystery and, in the final pages, pathos. Loneliness here is a bass clarinet solo; adoration, a solo violin. The LPO played it with the fluency of a core repertoire piece and Krivine was a more than reliable steersman.
He needed to be when, earlier, Gidon Kremer took the solo spot for Sibelius's Violin Concerto. Maybe we've become immune to the difficulty of such works in the face of staggering virtuosity, but Kremer looked and sounded like a ghostly shadow of his former self, playing from the score, struggling with the pyrotechnics, straying from the centre of too many important notes, and generally shrinking in the face of the work's elemental power. He was like an old explorer recalling hostile terrains, a small voice long since lost in the whiteout.
Occasionally, he would happen upon a phrase made personal over years of exploration, but it wasn't until his encore – the first movement of Ysaÿe's Fifth Solo Sonata – that the old black magic returned briefly, to make something wondrous of the composer's burgeoning arpeggiations.
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