Manfred, Op.115 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Manfred – Symphony in B minor after Byron, Op.58
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic OrchestraVasily Petrenko
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 19 July, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Mahler’s re-orchestration of the Overture that begins Schumann’s incidental music for “Manfred” goes further than the thinning-out of textures that marks Mahler’s treatment of Schumann’s symphonies. Immediately striking was the opening cymbal clash – no less remarkable today than it must have been to listeners in New York in 1909 when Mahler conducted. Petrenko vividly realised Schumann’s powerful evocation of the wracked conscience, mental anguish, and sheer desperation of Byron’s wandering hero. Following the opening chords, the sense of deep sadness that emanated from the strings was highly affecting. All-consuming Sturm und Drang characterised the main body of the overture, Petrenko driving the music forward at an inexorable but never excessive pace – the total effect breathtaking. Passionate playing from the cellos and double basses was hugely impressive, as were many felicitous details from horns, winds, and (another conspicuous Mahler addition) muted trumpets. The deep melancholy at the close was palpable.
There followed a fine performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. The very opening bars were sonorous but unmannered: Simon Trpčeski’s approach would not be of the heart-on-sleeve variety. Indeed, the preponderant mood of the first movement, from both pianist and orchestra, was one of straightforward grandeur, and while the soloist’s secure and lissom playing was thrilling in extrovert passages, the more tranquil episodes were notable for an intensely meditative quality rather than for any over-indulgent soulfulness. In the slow movement the mood of reflection intensified, the soloist accompanied by very fine playing from horns and winds, especially Nicholas Cox on clarinet. And amidst all the virtuosity of the finale, moments such as the tender piano-writing eerily accompanied by bassoons, linger in the mind. The work’s conclusion was suitably brilliant, the RLPO responding to its conductor with enormous élan.
Byron’s hero re-appeared in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. The lower strings dug into the opening in the most trenchant manner, immediately setting the mood for the depiction of Manfred’s tortured soul. Petrenko and his players confidently rose to every virtuosic demand of Tchaikovsky’s frenzied score and also evinced deep wells of emotion in the Astarte sections, in which the playing of winds and violins (how passionate the latter were here) was exceptional. Gossamer playing by the winds and strings was a notable feature of the second-movement scherzo, whose spectral conclusion was beautifully realised. In the Andante there was touching playing from the violins and from Jonathan Small on oboe, contributing greatly to a highly effective depiction of the pastoral scene. Petrenko was wholly at one with the Bacchanalian dimension of the finale, in which the brass section really shone and the strings again played with enormous commitment and intensity. Towards the close one was left in no doubt as to the extent of Manfred’s desolation, and when the Royal Albert Hall organ entered (played by Graham Eccles) the climax was stunningly realised. The final, serene, pages were beautifully played.