Krivine leads NSO
Coming in Friday's Washington Post:
The line between old school and Old World was a hard one to establish firmly at the National Symphony Orchestra concert last night. The orchestra was in the hands of Emmanuel Krivine, a diminutive French-born violinist-turned-conductor who exudes a sense of bygone elegance, at once dapper and courtly. He took the podium at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the understatement of a man who would think it a matter of course to pull a chair out for a lady to sit in at dinner; the gesture may be a little old-fashioned or unexpected, and may not be to everyone’s taste, but it also has a certain charm. That charm, and understatement, and slightly old-fashioned approach characterized the evening, and the orchestra seemed to bask in it; they sounded perfectly lovely.
We have gotten so used to hearing Beethoven as slightly raw and violent, due to today’s notions of what constituted original early 19th-century performance style, that a refined reading sounds more old-fashioned than the purportedly authentic 1800s version. The evening opened with the “Egmont” overture, as lovingly crafted and shaped, warm and solid as a piece of antique furniture. In place of biting attacks, there were flowing legatos; in place of emotional outbursts, Krivine offered restraint, holding back the music, reining it in as it built to a judicious forte.
Judicious didn’t mean weighty: Krivine has a light touch, focusing on surfaces and sometimes sliding across them. Beethoven’s second piano concerto opened pellmell, with a kind of puppy-dog eagerness, so that the orchestra had to race to catch up. It’s the second time the NSO has played the piece this calendar year; I didn’t hear it in January, when they performed it with Michael Stern and Emanuel Ax, so I can’t compare that reading to this one with Louis Lortie, who brought an Apollonian beauty to the chains of round notes, each one full and shining, that he stretched up and down the keyboard. Like Krivine, Lortie is a shaper of sound, physically coaxing out phrases with a nodding head or conducting his right hand with motions of his left, but his playing had a firm clarity that made Krivine seem at times slightly effete. The orchestra was restrained when it might have been bolder -- in, for instance, the third movement, when thanks to Krivine’s penchant for slow crescendos, the orchestra’s entrance sounded pallid after the piano’s rousing call to arms. This was certainly deliberate, but it meant that Krivine rather undersold the piece.
The second half of the program looked, on paper, big and even blowsy: Liszt’s “Les Preludes” and Richard Strauss’s “Don Juan.” It might not have seemed a fit for the cat-like elegance of Krivine, but in fact Krivine’s old-fashioned air came straight out of the late 19th century, and this music was home turf. He kept his heart well off his sleeve, to be sure, but reveled in the range of colors the score and orchestra offered him, bringing out the ethereal other-worldly watercolor quality of the Liszt (which sounded like a direct precursor of the Wagner of “Tannhäuser’s” Venusberg), or letting the horns shine in the Strauss. Before the end of the Strauss, he even indulged in a moment of outright drama, creating and holding an achingly long silence in the music, a place of complete stillness without a single audience cough, before tying the whole thing up efficiently. Old-fashioned he may have been, but it sounded like he was doing something right: the NSO played with an old-fashioned solidity that suited the orchestra very well.
Posted by: Lindemann777 | December 3, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: scprice546 | December 3, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: William Kirchhoff | December 3, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: richardmelanson05 | December 5, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: JohnRDC | December 5, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: richardmelanson05 | December 5, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse