La Chamber Philharmonique is a period instrument band
of the highest excellence. Emmanuel Krivine shows himself
to be an equally fine musician here, although my previous
live experience of him did not indicate that this would
be the case. He accompanied Argerich
at the Festival Hall back in March 2004,
and whilst Argerich delivered the goods, the remainder
of the concert left much to be desired.
The Dvořák begins with a rhythmic distortion that
one would presume to be based on research – the string
neighbour-note figure seems over-long; the wind answer
returns to the “standard” version. This quirk aside, the
movement is given an authentically-informed performance,
with transparency being the order of the day. The Allegro
is nicely sprung and, in keeping with the spring-cleaning
of text, the lead-in to the flute second subject is minimal;
this is as opposed to the all-out ritard. that seems to
be the norm. Portamento occasionally surfaces on the strings,
an aspect of informed practice that is as refreshing as
it is ear-opening. The exposition repeat is observed.
The tempo for the Largo
is expertly chosen – slow
enough to retain the solemnity of the opening chorale,
flowing enough to sustain the famous melody. A special
mention is due for the oboe at 7:35 – oboist Christian
Moreaux enters haltingly, and most effectively. The Scherzo
towards its close; the finale is noteworthy for its expert
horn playing, especially the “hunting” quartet of horns
at around 8:30. The finale begins with an unstoppable momentum.
This is refreshing playing with some wonderful solo moments.
Luca Luccetta’s silken clarinet provides one of them.
Comparison with Marin Alsop’s recent, excellent Naxos
with the Baltimore Symphony reveals complementary
approaches that deserve to share shelf-space. Alsop is
perhaps more traditional but still gives a tremendous
account – and her filler, the Symphonic Variations
receives an even finer performance.
The horns used for the Dvořák were a mix of Raoux
(Paris, early nineteenth century) and Viennese (made by
Anton Franz Cizk in 1905). For the solo piece, only Viennese
valved horns are used. Schumann deliberately wrote it for
valved instruments. I like Alain Chotil-Fani’s use of understatement
in the booklet. The piece is still little known, he says,
despite the composer’s own comment about it as “one of
the best things I’ve done”. He goes on to say, “The difficulty
of assembling a quartet of top-quality soloists may explain
its relative rarity in the concert hall”. May? The writing
is terrifically difficult - for the top two players especially
- and the mere mention of “Konzertstück” instils fear into
any self-respecting player’s heart.
The horns here make a relatively self-effacing entrance,
surely contrary to Schumann’s intent. At the other extreme,
a performance I owned on LP in the early 1980s, now seemingly
out of print, was an account by a quartet headed by the
great Hermann Baumann, whose opening could only be described
as raucous. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the
four players here, who work not only as a unit but also
with unfailing musicality. The virtuosity of the finale,
not only in terms of negotiating extremes of range but
also in terms of nimbleness, is a joy here. The high (sounding) ‘A’ here,
performed at considerable speed, actually made me laugh
out loud it was so unreasonably well-placed and sounded.
Bravo to all concerned – Krivine ensures that the orchestral
contribution is never routine.
of this piece shows off what is
one of the world’s great horn sections; Thielemann’s
with the Philharmonia is another fine version. But my
preferred version is now this Naïve one. A tremendous