Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko at Carnegie Hall – Britten & Holst – Kian Soltani plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto

Peter Grimes, Op.33 – Four Sea Interludes, Op.33a
Cello Concerto in E-minor, Op.85
The Planets, Op.32

Kian Soltani (cello)
Women’s voices of Musica Sacra

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 31 January, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Returning to Carnegie Hall for the first time in twenty-five years, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concluded its nine-city, fourteen-performance American tour with this concert. Music Director Vasily Petrenko addressed the sold-out hall, speaking proudly of the RPO musicians being the first international orchestra to tour the US since March of 2020. “It means that everything is possible, even in such difficult circumstances.”

The musical program began with a richly atmospheric account of the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s 1945 opera Peter GrimesThe musicians vividly conveyed the restless moods and contrasting colorsof the dramatic seascapes, with the violins stretched to their limits in the high-lying melodies of ‘Dawn’ and in the fleeting figurations of ‘Sunday Morning’. Petrenko created a wonderful sense of depth and movement in ‘Moonlight’, and the turbulent ‘Storm’ came off as an especially exhilarating finale.

Taking center-stage for Elgar’s elegiac Cello Concerto was Kian Soltani. He has a strong and attractive personality, which he revealed in the melancholy opening recitative, combining strength with tender phrasing. Completely attuned to the composer’s sensibility, he gave a moving rendition, successfully balancing agility with restrained tranquility. His playing was particularly poignant in the Adagio, where he most effectively unearthed the operatic lyricism in the music, and he was equally compelling in the quick-fingered passages the buoyant final movement. Throughout the performance Petrenko was a perceptive and respectful collaborator, the RPO’s strings adding an attractively warm glow. As an encore, Soltani, accompanied by five RPO cellists, played his own arrangement of the Introduction to Shostakovich’s score for the 1955 Soviet film The Gadfly. It was delicate and lovely. 

The second half brought a resplendent performance of Holst’s The Planets. With his full-bodied, balletic conducting style, Petrenko generated tremendous excitement and energy in ‘Mars’ and ‘Jupiter’. In ‘Venus’ he drew a wide kaleidoscope of colors, with the silvery solos of the concertmaster and principal cellist adding a lustrous veneer. ‘Mercury’ was delightfully rambunctious, and ‘Saturn’ a mesmerizing mix of tranquility and angst, The jaunty marches of ‘Uranus’ were aptly mischievous, and the final movement, ‘Neptune’, expanded into layers of vivid orchestration, with the women of Musica Sacra, prepared Kent Tritle, providing an unearthly radiance from offstage.

As an encore, the RPO dashed off a vibrant performance the ‘Dance of the Tumblers,’ from Tchaikovsky’s The Snow Maiden, providing a celebratory end to an evening of brilliant music-making.

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