Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko Jonathan Small

Rimsky-Korsakov
Capriccio espagnol, Op.34
Shchedrin
Oboe Concerto [UK premiere]
Shostakovich
Symphony No.15 in A, Op.141

Jonathan Small (oboe)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko


Reviewed by: Glyn Môn Hughes

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

Oboists are not well off when it comes to concertos – certainly when compared to pianists or violinists. That’s why it was good to hear that Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin (born 1932) has added his name to that rather elite list. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic principal oboe Jonathan Small was soloist for the UK premiere of the work, which was jointly commissioned by the RLPO, in co-operation with the Royal Concertgebouw, Dresden Philharmonic and Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse.

Vasily Petrenko. Photograph: Mark McNultyShchedrin calls for a large orchestra, though Small’s exemplary, often highly emotional playing easily held its own. It’s also a piece in which the influence of Shostakovich – a friend of Shchedrin’s – appeared to weigh heavily and where interaction of the soloist with individuals within the orchestra, or specific instrumental groupings, worked to great effect. Notable was Small’s quite intimate chat with the cor anglais and, perhaps somewhat bizarrely, the tuba. The achingly questioning opening quickly turned into a sprightly, garrulous musical conversation. Vasily Petrenko allowed the finale to build into a frenzied fortissimo which simply collapsed back, allowing Small’s stunning cadenza – that duet with the tuba – to shine forth.

The new concerto appeared to be, in part, the reminiscences of a 78-year-old. That gave it much in common with Shostakovich’s Fifteenth (and final) Symphony, another work – allegedly – looking back at a long life. It’s not one of those works which is a blaze of triumph, like Symphony 5, or the ferocity of much of Symphony 10. Much of it is massively introspective. The second movement was barely audible for much of the time, almost like someone whispering a stark confession. The brass was particularly sensitive here and the break into the mockingly raucous third movement came as welcome relief. The near frivolity which Petrenko allowed soon lapsed back into deadly seriousness as those delicious Wagner quotations from the Siegfried’s death-scene in ”Götterdämmerung” were heard. The work parodies the yearning of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” Prelude and ended in near silence. Compared with the quite raucous and irreverent first movement, the contrast could hardly have been starker.

Petrenko’s charged account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol opened the concert. The score’s got every Spanish cliché but, as a bit of fun, it works. The orchestra sparkled, especially solo violin, clarinet and flute with enlivened strings giving real ‘edge of the seat’ playing. If the orchestra was on form at its opening concert of the new season last week, this weekend it was truly sprinting.

  • Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 30 September at 7 p.m.
  • RLPO

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