Prom 60: Oslo Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko – The Firebird & Shostakovich 12 – Leif Ove Andsnes plays Rachmaninov

The Firebird [1919 Suite]
Piano Concerto No.4 in G-minor, Op.40 [final version]
Symphony No.12 in D-minor, Op.112 (The Year 1917)

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Oslo Philharmonic
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Ateş Orga

Reviewed: 29 August, 2017
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes performs in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor with the Oslo Philharmonic conducted by Vasily Petrenko at the 2017 BBC PromsPhotograph: Chris Christodoulou / BBCVasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic work well together, he cleanly efficient and technically precise, the players a well-oiled but individually characterful ensemble. As satisfyingly complete concerts go, largely without fuss or fault, this was up there with the best.

The second of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suites (there are three) prepared us for what was in store. An organically shaped, dramatically on-going reading, exacting in its dynamic range, the strings (antiphonal violins, cellos and double basses placed to the right) taken to their limits, barely murmuring, brass and woodwind excelling in dovetails and phrasing, the percussion arrogantly thrilling in their crack of doom, full-bodied rhythmic uppercuts. Petrenko coaxed no end of fantasies and colours, the great horn solo of the conclusion floated into the World with all the magic of legend and history about it.

Returning to a former hunting ground, Beethoven behind him, Leif Ove Andsnes dispatched Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto coolly but without much effort perhaps to reconcile its more problematic corners. What we got was what we know – a score (in the 1941 revision) of inspired ideas and harmonies difficult to gel into a structural or emotional whole, more restless and self-doubting than confident. There were beautiful glints – flashes of earlier compositions and figurations, the dissolving trills at the end of the slow movement, the curiously reinforced presence of Mendelssohn’s same-key First Piano Concerto (the schoolroom work of Rachmaninov’s youth) motivating start and finish. Yet cumulatively Andsnes might have been less self-effacing, more prepared to wear his heart on his sleeve. He took us on a safe tour. What I wanted was a touch of Michelangeli, better still the Earl Wild/Horenstein chemistry. For an encore, Sibelius’s pre-First World War Romance, Opus 24/9, an Andsnes favourite, was unassumingly atmospheric – Orpheus in D-flat placating the demons of the hour.

Vasily Petrenko conducts the Oslo Philharmonic at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 29 August 2017Photograph: Chris Christodoulou / BBCPetrenko’s leitmotif Shostakovich focussed on a cyclically organised classical-romantic abstract in four movements, Allegro-Adagio-Allegro-Finale, D minor-major, a Symphony by ‘x’ rather than a twentieth-century Soviet, eschewing programatising and politics. Petrenko drove his orchestra hard, the argument and textural discourse of the music pursued relentlessly with Beethovenian inexorability and Mravinsky-like economy (and clarity) of beat and gesture. The metrically shifting introduction flowed with ease. The strings had bite and unanimity. The brass chording was immaculate. The woodwind tongued and slurred with frosty crispness. The percussion, odd hair-cracks notwithstanding, dominated, underlined and framed the theatre, magnificently so. The trombone solo, the hushed strings and stroked tam-tam of the slow movement made for high poetry. The timpani and pizzicatos of the third riveted the imagination. The final pages – back to Shostakovich’s Fifth – transported spiritually, sonically and visually, kettledrums (fine-tuned to the end) and percussion riding the orchestra from high in rampant profusion. Crafting a virtuoso Symphony for virtuoso orchestra, Petrenko showed us a masterpiece.

The encore, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise (arranged from Opus 34), elegantly displayed the plush velvet and warm sound of the Oslo strings: perfectly shaped, exquisitely motioned and tailed-off.

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