Yakov Kreizberg (1959-2011) - an appreciation
by Evan Dickerson
Amongst my circle of friends it is typical that over dinner
conversation should turn to matters musical. After a substantial
debate around the merits or lack thereof in György Kurtág's
music, I found myself faced with the question, “Which
conductor do you want to hear more often?”
My immediate reply: “Yakov Kreizberg”.
My dinner companions nodded thoughtfully or looked perplexed,
but my questioner refused to let it rest at that and pressed
me for further elaboration.
I heard Yakov Kreizberg conduct on two occasions: Der Rosenkavalier
at English National Opera and in concert at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw
with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra in Schumann's second
symphony and Brahms' violin concerto. The soloist was his long-time
collaborator Julia Fischer.
Der Rosenkavalier, I recall, was conducted rather at arm's
length. I did not feel that Kreizberg was fully connected with
the drama and passion that is - for me at least - so much part
of the opera's fabric. The playing was perfectly correct, everything
was in its appropriate place, yet whilst listening to it I remained
My thoughts on the 2006 Schumann and Brahms concert were published
at the time. Re-reading the review,
I am conscious of the fact that my attention is more on Julia
Fischer's solo contribution than Yakov Kreizberg's conducting
in the concerto. Schumann, however, allowed Kreizberg to really
grab my attention. Going back to the notes I made in the concert
programme, I commented on the 'definite sense of purpose' and
'clear technique and astute ear for layering the orchestral
sections […] building sonorities from the bass range upwards'.
It is a shame that Kreizberg never made it into the recording
studio with Schumann.
Afterwards, I headed to the Concertgebouw café to bide
my time before heading back upstairs to hear Radu Lupu play
Beethoven. Much to my surprise, Yakov Kreizberg took a seat
opposite me shortly afterwards. Evidently still feeling the
afterglow of Schumann's great passions - as was I - he sat and
we conversed fulsomely whilst he consumed first a soup then
chocolate cake at an alarming rate. The lasting impression was
one of courtesy, utter professionalism of course, but that he
treated my remarks with respect, even though it was momentarily
obvious that our views differed regarding the dynamic impetus
required for the first movement. He laughed upon seeing my comment
“too laboured ???”, thought a moment, and nodded
slightly with a broad smile. It was easy for me to see that
if he took this kind of approach with orchestras and soloists
just why his colleagues have been so quick to offer fulsome
praise in the wake of his untimely death following illness
at the age of 51.
A varied legacy is left on CD and DVD, with several of the orchestras
Kreizberg headed as chief conductor or music director represented.
Early encounters on CD for Decca included two recordings of
Berthold Goldschmidt's music, including the clarinet concerto.
Not surprisingly his collaboration with Julia Fischer and the
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra features strongly on the
Pentatone label. Practically every release - including of the
Brahms solo and double concertos - received favourable reviews
upon release. Their Mozart concertos and notable for their scale,
cleanliness and unassuming style. Dvořák symphonies
impress for their pliant sensitivity as much as his Shostakovich
reflects the ability he had to bring out inevitability of form
in the composer's writing. His only recording of a Bruckner
symphony (no. 7 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra) was deservedly
a contender for the 2006 Grammy Best Orchestral Performance
award. Kreizberg's most recent artistic relationship was with
the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo. They released in
January this year a 3 CD set of the Stravinsky ballets on the
orchestra’s own label, featuring the rising star mezzo-soprano
Renata Pokupic. The latest recording with Julia Fischer is due
out on Decca next month, featuring Suk, Respighi, Chausson and
Vaughan Williams. One wonders what else might have been forthcoming
in time from Monte-Carlo under Kreizberg's baton. Only his opera
repertoire is significantly under-represented, with a Don
Giovanni filmed at Glyndebourne.
Returning to Yakov's interpretation of Der Rosenkavalier
once more I am tempted to think that actually he got it right.
Richard Strauss's music can be played coolly and largely free
of traditional Viennese excess, even when it is at its most
overtly romantic. Surely a key defining characteristic in any
musician of stature is their ability to persuade that another
interpretation is not only technically possible, but that it
also makes musical sense. For that reason alone Yakov
Kreizberg surely still had much to offer orchestras, soloists
and audiences, making his loss all the harder to bear.
Incidentally, were I to be asked the question again as to which
conductor I want to hear more of, I would go for Yakov’s
older brother, Semyon Bychkov.
Evan also writes about music and more on his blog Comments