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NSO with Emmanuel Krivine and Louis Lortie

In the National Symphony Orchestra’s latest endeavor, conductor Emmanuel Krivine (pictured) led the orchestra, along with pianist Louis Lortie, in an exposition of contrasts: the classicism of Beethoven and the saccharine romanticism of Liszt and Strauss. Krivine, from the onset, however, seemed the perfect fit for the former -- his manner so elegant, and so classical in every way. The program opened with Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont and Piano Concerto No. 2, and the roundness of Krivine’s touch was immediately made apparent through the opening chords of the Egmont. The sound was never big, but it was indeed thick, and it was marvelous. Rather muted emotionally, however, Krivine never gave the audience the Beethoven that one popularly thinks of, the enfant terrible. And while the Egmont and second piano concerto are decidedly classical and still early in Beethoven’s timeline, Krivine’s renditions were still missing something. In fact, the music was so utterly elegant, it seemed more fit for Mozart’s Vienna, rather than that of Beethoven. While these works do not have the fire and fervor of what was yet to come, they still have hints (even more so in the Egmont) of that intensity and chordal thickness. But any sort of driving force Krivine presented in the two Beethoven works was subdued. As beautiful as the sound was, it was altogether lacking that Beethoven distinction.

Louis Lortie, a master colorist and technician at the piano, fit into the elegance equation marvelously. His playing, like Krivine’s conducting, was round -- every note starting and ending beyond its parameters. The sound was gorgeous and melted into the orchestra. The technical passages were light and perfectly executed, but it was in the second movement where Lortie showed off his true ability to manipulate the piano. Using long pedals that most pianists would surely balk at (Beethoven put in his own pedal markings, which are often far too much for the highly resonant modern piano), Lortie created a sustained sound to a glorious, ethereal effect.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Krivine, NSO show lightness of being in Beethoven, Liszt (Washington Post, December 3)
After the first half, it seemed a far cry for Krivine to be able to arrive firmly in the nineteenth century with Les Préludes by Liszt and Don Juan by Strauss. Indeed, he did arrive, basking in the lush harmonies and colors of the two symphonic poems. In the Liszt particularly, Krivine showcased his ability to produce different kinds of colors. The low brass were a magnificent wash of grandeur over the strings’ filigree work. By contrast, the almost pointed and solitary passing of motifs between the instruments was handled deftly and cleanly. It was in the Strauss that the orchestra finally sounded truly comfortable, and truly in sync with one another. The ensemble may not have been perfectly together, but they were certainly of one mind. Krivine, though understated in style, unquestionably has the ability to rally an orchestra into a single, elegant entity.

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