Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko – Berg’s Seven Early Songs & Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony

Seven Early Songs
Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)

Kate Royal (soprano)
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Glyn Môn Hughes

Reviewed: 25 February, 2010
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Overwhelming! There can be few words which would adequately describe Mahler’s gargantuan Second Symphony, the ‘Resurrection’.

Vasily Petrenko. Photograph: Mark McNultyThis performance, given by Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, was certainly that, greeted with a tumultuous standing ovation. If anything, this latest in the RLPO’s three-year-long examination of all Mahler’s symphonies and his other major orchestral works, showed what a worthy project this is and how brave it is to programme something which is also being undertaken just down the road in Manchester by the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic.

This performance dwelt heavily on the pensive melancholy of the opening, moving, with Petrenko leading the orchestra through a particularly devilish scherzo to a cataclysmic finale, ending in a particularly glorious affirmation. The incessant, disturbed string opening, which built into a huge orchestral tutti set the scene, Petrenko pulling tempos hither and thither, building massive climaxes and relaxing back to nothing. Just occasionally, things were not as they should be: the horns were untidy in some of the pianissimo moments, but that was, in the great scheme of things, a minor point.

The weaving contrapuntal lines were expertly picked out in the andante, reducing in some places to a barely audible whisper. Then to the satanic scherzo, which Petrenko played to maximum dramatic effect. Catherine Wyn-Rogers was sublime in the short fourth movement (‘Urlicht’) and, when joined by Kate Royal (both soloists seated from the beginning of the symphony within the ranks of the chorus), made a splendid contribution to the shattering, blistering finale. The Choir produced magical pianissimo moments but blossomed into a striking fortissimo which, along with the RLPO itself, did great justice to this moving symphony. And, importantly, their words were audible, not something that Royal always achieved in her contribution.

The first half, devoted to Alban Berg’s “Seven Early Songs” showed his intense romanticism, where the colours of the large orchestra were used to great effect. Kate Royal was, disappointingly, a little unvaried in each song but used her hugely flexible voice to cope with the large range demanded by the composer. Here, it was easy to detect how Berg would later produce the angularity of “Lulu” or the intensity of the tragedy “Wozzeck”.

But the night belonged to Mahler – and Petrenko. Another eight symphonies to go: they must not be missed.

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