Vasily Petrenko stood in for Sir Colin Davis, who is recovering from illness, in this concert intended as part of his 85th-birthday celebrations, with soloist and programme unchanged. The special rapport between Petrenko and the Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski is well established, and Petrenko has been getting his hands round Elgar with his own orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (and has also conducted the First Symphony in San Francisco). So this concert joined up quite a lot of dots.
Their performance of the ‘Emperor’ Concerto was clothed in sovereign regalia, and revelled in the might of the modern symphony orchestra and Steinway concert grand. Trpčeski let the soloist’s opening flourish unfold without any romantic lingering, clearing the way for Petrenko to launch into the orchestra’s exposition with full military precision. Beethoven’s music, more so than his contemporaries, is profoundly rhythmic, and Petrenko communicated this with an energy verging on vehemence. Such upfront sense of purpose, in this concerto particularly, is usually the soloist’s province, and it said a great deal about Petrenko and Trpčeski’s musical partnership that the latter’s playing, however majestic, was more the civilising influence, leavening Petrenko’s assertive tempos and phrasing with the generous breadth and warmth that distinguish this fine pianist’s work. Trpčeski’s fans are likely to have come to him via Rachmaninov, but the same electrifying blend of grace, muscularity and soul worked wonders in Beethoven – I doubt whether I’ve heard him produce such a monumental sound as he did in the massive chordal riposte to the orchestra, or such a refined delicacy of tone he conjured in the slow movement, and the open-hearted wit of the finale was truly beguiling. His playing was a reminder of how rare this level of engagement and communication is – and how addictive.
In the Elgar, Petrenko toned down the assertiveness, although his fast tempos still had a pervasive asperity. On home ground, people can get over-protective and over-subjective about Elgar, and I wasn’t really prepared for Petrenko’s extraordinary and confident expansion of Elgar’s complicated emotional world, executed with the sort of insight that both honoured the composer and distinguished the conductor. The distinction between the solemn opening and the volatile main allegro had an almost bi-polar intensity, and when the noblilmente
music tried to reassert itself, the sense of effort involved and distance covered was stupendous. The scherzo responded keenly to Petrenko’s gritty, mechanistic approach, and the way in which the music unravels at the same time as it regroups into the slow movement was masterly. The Adagio took this process of detachment even further, with Petrenko allowing the music to dip in and out of the long perspectives of yearning and secrecy. None of Elgar’s blasts of decisiveness or diffident disappearing acts could have been achieved without the LSO’s superb playing, which found a differentiation of timbre, colour and weight to suit every emotional nuance, and Petrenko’s layering of the orchestration shone yet more light on this great music.