Vasily Petrenko made a spectacular impression in this concert, his Carnegie Hall debut, stepping in for BRSO Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons who had fallen ill on the previous evening. The program opened with a stylish and spirited account of a concert hall regular, Weber’s Overture to Euryanthe. Because of its weak libretto the complete opera has been rarely staged since its 1823 debut (there are – as far as I can tell – only three commercial recordings). The elegant and sensuous themes so handsomely revealed in this exuberant performance made one hope for a comeback of the full opera.
Next came Mozart. Veteran pianist Rudolf Buchbinder gave a smoothly-turned but somewhat sleepy performance of K488. Petrenko and the orchestra provided excellent accompaniment throughout, most notably in the Adagio, where they managed to be sufficiently accommodating of the pianist in the softer, more intimate passages without falling short of dynamic variety. The performance livened up considerably in the sparkling Allegro assai finale where Buchbinder’s more joyful and exuberant playing was a striking contrast to his overly relaxed and understated rendering of the first two movements. He bumped up the energy quotient even more in his encore: a spirited rendition of Alfred Grünfeld’s Soirée de Vienne, Op.56, Concert Paraphrase after Johann Strauss II's Waltzes from Der Fledermaus .
After intermission came the indisputable highlight of the evening: a blazing performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. Among the darkest of the composer’s works in the genre, it is also one of his most beautiful. Long (nearly 50 minutes), difficult and uncompromising, it was written shortly after the death of Stalin, and some view the Allegro movement as a musical portrait of that dictator. The work as a whole has been characterized as a scathing response to the condemnation suffered by the composer. Responding to Petrenko’s elaborate and expansive gestures, the Bavarian musicians delivered a powerful performance brimming with bite and intensity. The musicians were absolutely splendid across the board, especially the woodwind principals, the horns, and the extraordinary timpanist.
The long and eloquent opening Moderato was perfectly proportioned. The soulful clarinet theme followed by the forlorn little flute melody over plucked strings rose to a frighteningly fateful crescendo – replete with snarling snare drums, agonizing string sounds and trumpet-topped brass – before gradually morphing into silence. The compact and concentrated scherzo ensued, its whirlwind pace and energetic rhythms contrasting perfectly with the expansive gloom of the first movement. In the mysterious Allegretto, Petrenko worked the orchestra worked up to an absolutely dazzlingly crescendo. The wind playing throughout the performance was remarkable, but especially so in the finale, where the shadowy solos of the introductory Andante gently evolved into the twisting theme that launches the Allegro. This was a truly fine performance of this magnificent work.
As an encore, more Shostakovich: a superb rendition of the entr’acte between Scenes 6 and 7 of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.