Northern Sinfonia, Thomas Zehetmair and Lars Vogt
By Alfred Hickling. The Guardian
Ernst Krenek’s vast output, which spanned some 70 years of the last century, has never been popular with British audiences. But Northern Sinfonia’s music director, Thomas Zehetmair, believes he was “a musical Picasso” capable of consistently altering and adapting his style.
Krenek’s evolution kept pace with late-Romanticism, neoclassicism, jazz and electronica, though the Symphonic Elegy Op 105 dates from the difficult-to-love phase when he became a convert to Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique. He remained unrepentant about his passion for tone rows, stating: “I have been blamed a) for doing it at all, b) for doing it too late, and c) for still being at it.”
In the wrong hands serialism can sound horribly academic. But the Symphonic Elegy Op 105 was written in response to the early death of Krenek’s friend Anton Webern, and Zehetmair’s performance reaches to the heart of the work’s darkly emotive, drifting beauty.
If the Krenek was a slow-burning affair, Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto went up like a fireball. Soloist Lars Vogt struck a fine balance between playful lyricism and brute force: you could see the tendons standing out on his neck, and he concluded certain phrases with his hands above his head as if celebrating a decisive goal.
The Sinfonia’s compact forces brought a crisp sense of period detail to Brahms’s First Symphony, if not quite the period the composer had in mind. It has been dubbed “Beethoven’s 10th Symphony”; here the trim sound was closer to Haydn’s 107th. But if you prefer red-meat romanticism on the lean side, you would appreciate the delicate ﬂavour.