Philharmonia Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko – The Enchanted Lake & Prokofiev 5 – Nikolai Lugansky plays Tchaikovsky

The Enchanted Lake, Op.62
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100

Nikolai Lugansky (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 23 April, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vasily Petrenko. Photograph: Mark McNultyThe last time I heard Vasily Petrenko was when he stood in for (now the late) Sir Colin Davis with the LSO, delivering one of those performances – in this case of Elgar’s First Symphony – that made you hear it completely afresh. For his guest appearance with the Philharmonia Orchestra, he was on solidly Russian home territory, but did not hold back on surprises.

Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake doesn’t get that many outings and what little it does is done quietly and beautifully. The Philharmonia expertly wafted its way through the tissues of transparency, deferring tactfully to Tristan und Isolde who didn’t so much as dip a dainty toe as skinny-dip in its not exactly fathomless depths and presenting a sound that could not have been more impressionistic, with some subtly allusive woodwind playing casting a few specks of activity on its untroubled surface.

Nikolai Lugansky. Photograph: © Marco Borggreve / Naïve-AmbroisieRecent experience tells one to approach performances of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with a degree of circumspection. What snorting, stamping warhorse will be given a stiff shot of steroids and then unleashed onto an unsuspecting audience? Petrenko’s and Nikolai Lugansky’s reading, though, could not have been more different. Lugansky, especially, revealed a range of detail and nuance that could only come from a profound knowledge of and affection for this work that sometimes seems far from evergreen. There was ear-bending virtuosity – the way the piano’s double-octaves entry abided by the speed set by the orchestra was sensational – but there was just as much finely honed respect for structure, particularly in a first movement notable for its expansive and symphonic overview. The performance as a whole was distinguished by the fluidity of give and take between conductor and soloist, and Petrenko and the Philharmonia, on super-responsive form, revealed countless treasurable details in the scoring. In the end, though, it was the great Lugansky, powering through the virtuosic challenges and teasing depths of poetry from the many passages of repose that defined musicianship of rare distinction.

I was rather late coming to terms with Shostakovich, and it was in no small part that Petrenko’s concerts and recordings showed the way, due to a measured dynamism and thorough understanding that went hand-in-hand with his powerful grasp of the music’s inner world. One of the most impressive things about this Prokofiev 5 was Petrenko’s appreciation of the orchestral sound’s reflective surface, which at times seems to be saying ‘keep out’ to emotional involvement. Yet even with the lithe tuba underpinning shining strings, the symphony’s ambiguous spiritual and political message broke through, with a magnificently malevolent climax to the first movement approached with a heavily trod determination. The most successful of the four movements was the scherzo, with superbly vicious woodwind adding to the danger of the frenetic closing bars.

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