Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko – Cockaigne … Spring … The Firebird

Cockaigne (In London Town) – Concert Overture, Op.40
Vesna, Op.20
The Firebird

Eduard Tsanga (baritone)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Glyn Môn Hughes

Reviewed: 2 April, 2009
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Vasily Petrenko. Photograph: Mark McNultyThere is a radio station – not the one that recorded this concert – which is always talking about the “relaxing” qualities of music. What rot! Any passer-by near the confines of Philharmonic Hall would have felt the energy coming off the platform as Vasily Petrenko conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in explosive performances of Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Elgar.

With all three works written within just about a decade of each other, it’s hard to imagine a more fertile period. Stravinsky’s scores for The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring appeared within three years of each other. It’s the supremely colourful orchestration and the rhythmic drive, never mind the gritty and totally individual musical language that makes these works so special, landmarks in one of the most inventive periods of musical history.

But it is The Firebird that seems to retain all the mystery. And what a performance this was! At times delicate, at others extrovert, this interpretation was sometimes serene but always controlled. It exuded confidence, right from the barely perceptible opening to the stunning, cataclysmic finale. Petrenko kept the strings disciplined at all times but allowed the often-impish interjections of the woodwind – executed with absolute precision – to shine through. The Firebird demands much from the many soloists from within an orchestra and the RLPO players gave their all in this highly memorable performance – but mention must be made of the brass, the three solo trumpets and the solo horn in particular.

Heavy demands were also placed on the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir in Rachmaninov’s “Spring Cantata”, the text for which was written in 1863 by the Russian realist poet Nicolai Alexeyevich Nekrasov. Right from the brooding opening of this rarely heard work from 1902 – written after a period of severe depression for the composer following the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony – it’s plain to see that this is an exceptional work. There are many ravishing melodies along with some delicious modulations in the orchestral accompaniment. But it was the incredible power and energy of the choir – as precise and disciplined as ever – which made this work so momentous. It was that along with the richly expressive and dramatic baritone voice of Eduard Tsanga, making his debut with the RLPO, which made this performance special.

Add to these two masterpieces a blustering, energetic and swaggering performance of Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture: Petrenko can be justly proud, once again, of his orchestra.

  • Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday 6 April at 7 p.m.
  • RLPO

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