London Philharmonic Orchestra/Krivine

Gidon Kremer
Times Online

Geoff Brown at the Festival Hall, London SE1
In some ways Emmanuel Krivine is the ideal guest conductor. Neat and clean, he can be safely invited anywhere in the world. He causes no rumpus, no mess, but delivers the goods with chiselled baton, little dancing feet and smartly flicked wrists. The rejuvenated London Philharmonic Orchestra certainly seemed at home with him. Brooding nobility characterised their first offering, Brahms's Tragic Overture; a fine, dark-blooded reading. Finessed ensemble playing and subtle instrumental colours continued throughout - crucial in the night's big exhibit, Alexander Zemlinsky's aquatic and bulbous symphonic poem Die Seejungfrau.

Even so, it took the adventurous violinist Gidon Kremer playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto to jack up the excitement and make a decent concert memorable. His first entry did the trick: there he was, with his trademark bent knees, flying high in the cool Finnish air, yet with a gypsy touch in phrasing and fingering to keep his music-making earthy, on fire. Time and again, Kremer showed us his soul and his lively imagination. In the slow movement, he turned deliciously tentative, groping towards lyricism phrase by phrase. For the stomping finale (Tovey's “polonaise for polar bears”), out came the silvery spitfire dance, the virtuoso élan. The only drawback at times was his relatively lightweight tone: in joint climaxes with the orchestra, it was always the orchestra that won.

On then to the watery excesses of Zemlinsky's 40-minute Seejungfrau of 1902, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's sad story of unrequited love, The Little Mermaid. In length and opulence the work compares favourably with the contemporary symphonic whoppers of Strauss, though as a composer Zemlinsky has a smaller talent, certainly a smaller ego. No matter how manicured Krivine's beat, the work's padding and repetitions remained; this is a work that needs scissors. But it's also a work of splendid pages, and Krivine and the LPO made the highlights gleam, from the opening crawl along the ocean floor, and the storm spray and succulent string themes, to the whirl of the second movement's ball. And it was refreshing to hear even underpar Zemlinsky in concert: rather that than yet another battering of Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.