Rimsky-Korsakov said in his autobiography: “Listen to Scheherazade and your imagination will be set free to roam alone at will.” He might have had Vasily Petrenko’s reading in mind, a performance that mixed symphonic structure with a notable feeling for fantasy. After a slightly imprecise opening ‘The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship’ was launched with Pieter Schoeman’s violin painting a gently seductive portrait of the heroine, and Petrenko ensured there was a sense of foreboding in the lead-up to the brassy climax. ‘The Story of the Kalendar Prince’ was atmospheric with the many important solos beautifully played, especially those for clarinet and bassoon. The winsome melody of the third movement had wistfulness and charm and the last ounce of succulence from the strings, and the Finale enjoyed racing trumpets, a real skip to the rhythms and grandeur come the shipwreck.
Stravinsky’s debt to Rimsky is evident in the exotic and fantastical Song of the Nightingale culled from his Hans Andersen opera. Petrenko and the LPO produced a bustling opening and the Chinese march was delicate as well as grotesque. Petrenko emphasised the humour of the music and its exquisite detail, while Juliette Bausor’s flute delivered a poetic Nightingale’s song.
In this context Elgar initially seemed a strange if contemporaneous bedfellow but with Andreas Brantelid the Cello Concerto soon cast its spell. There was nothing false or over-stated in the opening movement although a slowly dawning sense of rapture became evident. Brantelid had dancing agility in the Scherzo and the slow movement was lyrically flowing, with fine support from the LPO’s strings. The Finale was brisk if rather lightweight and the reminiscence of the slow movement strangely failed to make its usual impact. Petrenko judged balance and tempo well as part of interpretation notable for its honesty. Brantelid’s encore was a movement from a Bach Cello Suite.
Prior to the concert Petrenko conducted Stravinsky’s Les noces as part of a Foyle Future Firsts programme. Les noces is a masterpiece that draws unique sonorities from solo singers, choir, four pianos and percussion, and is technically very demanding. The RCM students sounded well-rehearsed in this alert and enthusiastic performance, Petrenko generating rhythmic joy as much as primitive robustness. The four vocal soloists rose valiantly to the challenges with Galina Averina a bright-toned and affecting Bride.