Saturday 9 July 2016

Thrilling performances of Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies 1, 2 and 5 from Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for Onyx Classics in a cycle that promises to rank among the finest on disc

Chief Conductor of the European Union Youth Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko was born in 1976. He started his music education at the St Petersburg Capella Boys Music School before studying at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. As well as participating in masterclasses with major figures such as Ilya Musin, Mariss Jansons, and Yuri Temirkanov he has had considerable success in a number of international conducting competitions including the Fourth Prokofiev Conducting Competition in St Petersburg (2003), First Prize in the Shostakovich Choral Conducting Competition in St Petersburg (1997) and First Prize in the Sixth Cadaques International Conducting Competition in Spain.

Appointed Chief Conductor of the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2007 he has also worked with many of the world’s most prestigious orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia, Russian National Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Czech Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Finnish Radio Symphony, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, NHK Symphony Tokyo, Sydney Symphony, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and St Louis Symphony Orchestras.

Vasily Petrenko was appointed Principal Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2006, continuing as Chief Conductor from 2009. With the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Petrenko has achieved tremendous results, not the least of which are his recordings for Naxos Records, Orfeo and Onyx Classics.

He is only the second person to have been awarded Honorary Doctorates by both the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University (in 2009), and an Honorary Fellowship of the Liverpool John Moores University (in 2012), awards which recognise the immense impact he has had on the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the city’s cultural scene.

In October 2007 Petrenko was named Young Artist of the Year at the annual Gramophone Awards, and in 2010 he won the Male Artist of the Year at the Classical Brit Awards.

Now for Onyx , Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic  have recorded Tchaikovsky’s symphonies 1, 2 and 5 as part of a complete cycle.

Onyx 4150

In the opening of the Allegro tranquillo of Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.13 ‘Winter Dreams’ Petrenko achieves a subtle urgency, blossoming beautifully as it rises, with some exceptionally fine instrumental playing, to incisive peaks. The music is finely shaped with some lovely quieter moments, every little detail coming through, rising with tautness to further dynamic passages.  The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is on top form. The way Petrenko slowly and carefully builds the music before finding the sweep of the strings is impressive. There are many fine little instrumental details that quickly appear out of the texture as well as a really wonderful hushed build up to the coda with some magical playing before the music finds its fast moving thrust only to return to the opening little motif to conclude quietly.

Petrenko shapes the lovely Adagio cantabile ma non tanto to perfection with an exquisite rise and fall, drawing some lovely hushed moments from the RLPO strings. There is a lovely oboe theme around which a flute and bassoon weave before finding a fine steady rhythm. Again the way Petrenko shapes phrases is rather special. He takes us through passages that conjure a terrific atmosphere, full of Slavic nostalgia before the horns rise majestically over the orchestra as they find the climax, full of passion, before falling to a beautifully hushed coda.

The Scherzo (Allegro scherzando giocoso) is wonderfully fleet with finely controlled dynamics and shaping of phrases bringing a taut buoyancy. There is a beautifully done flowing trio section, Petrenko subtly pushing the tempo as it develops, woven through with some fine woodwind and brass contribution before dancing  forward until storm clouds in the form of timpani sound a warning and the coda is reached.

A finely shaped opening for woodwind introduces the Finale, slowly and subtly developing through the Andante lugubre to find a release as the music rises full of brilliance and strength in the Allegro moderato. Here the RLPO strings are truly terrific, fast and accurate with razor sharp responses. Petrenko whips up terrific thrust and dynamism, moving through the most crisply phrased, fast and fluent passages where Tchaikovsky provides so many musical strands. There is a tremendous passage when hushed strands slowly develop the theme with gently intoning brass before rising through the Allegro maestoso to a blazing Allegro vivo coda. This is a very fine Tchaikovsky First, superbly played.

With the Andante sostenuto - Allegro vivo of Symphony No.2 in C minor, Op.17 ‘Little Russian’ Petrenko brings a real Slavic quality to the brass. Bassoon and pizzicato strings are wonderfully shaped, rising through some nicely paced passages before the music falls back with the most lovely bubbling woodwind phrases. This conductor reveals some wonderful development passages, highlighting all of Tchaikovsky’s miraculous orchestration through some fine peaks to a hushed coda.

There is a finely pointed rhythmic march in the opening to the Andantino marziale, quasi moderato before the music moves through some quite lovely flowing passages. When the rhythmic theme re-appears Petrenko finds a lovely lift to the phrasing, developing the music wonderfully with the most wonderfully light textured rhythmic passages and a quiet rhythmic coda, so finely done.

The Scherzo (Allegro molto vivace) – Trio finds a real rhythmic, bouncing pulse as the music bounds ahead with more fleet and wonderfully accurate orchestral playing. The orchestra provide a terrific tautness and accuracy as the music bounds ahead. The trio section is also rather fine as rhythms run over each other in the musical lines. The RLPO achieve a terrific fluency, an infectious quality in this quite wonderful scherzo.

There is a terrific opening to the Finale (Moderato assai - Allegro vivo - Presto), a gloriously Russian theme before the strings develops the music with terrific verve and pin point precision. There is a balletic quality at times before some tremendous climaxes with the fine recording never losing focus. There is more fine control of dynamics and phrasing with the brass bringing some great moments. Petrenko points up so many fine features in the scoring before rising, with some quite exquisite woodwind contributions sounding through before falling back only to head to an absolutely terrific coda.

It must also be said that this is a very fine Tchaikovsky Second, especially when so much lovely detail can be heard.

The second disc of this set is given over to the Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64. Petrenko provides a brooding, atmospheric opening to the Andante - Allegro con anima with finely nuanced dynamics and phrasing. When the rhythm picks up the mood subtly shifts to head to a rigorous forward thrust, full of dynamism and impact. There is some wonderfully taut string playing from the RLPO with very lovely woodwind details emerging. This conductor provides some finely shaped passages where Tchaikovsky’s balletic lightness of touch is revealed. He at times whips up some terrific action and drama, wonderfully captured by the fine recording. There are moments of terrific swagger before a brilliant, exhilarating climax. Petrenko is able to move from quiet, detailed sections to passages of tremendous power seamlessly. There are some wonderfully fluent pizzicato passages before the music rediscovers its brooding nature in the coda.

The Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza rises through a brooding introduction, wonderfully shaped before a horn brings its melancholy theme, the orchestral support moving beautifully around the soloist. There are many fine individual contributions as Tchaikovsky’s lovely orchestration is woven with Petrenko revealing some lovely moments. There is a finely controlled climax before the music falls back, this conductor bringing a quite exquisite atmosphere, a gentle melancholy. Later the music rises to a biting climax, full of stabbing phrases before regaining a rather resigned nature. Petrenko delivers a subtle increase in urgency as the music rises through a quite wonderful broad section before taking us through more violent outbursts before finding a quiet coda.

Petrenko draws a fine string tone from the RLPO in the Valse (Allegro moderato), finding a lovely rhythmic pulse. Soon there is a dizzyingly fast string section around which the woodwind scurry, weaving around the really lovely flowing string textures and sonorities to lead to the coda.  

Petrenko brings a stately directness to the opening of the Finale (Andante maestoso - Allegro vivace) whilst subtly controlling the tempo and dynamics. When the little rhythmic theme intervenes briefly it has a de-stabilising effect but soon the forward moving theme returns. The music rises to a climax only to fall back with brass and woodwind, this conductor achieving a real sense of foreboding. When the music leaps up to rush ahead, Petrenko brings some great incisive phrases. There are moments of light textured, fleet orchestral playing with Petrenko finding so many conflicting emotions as the music rushes ahead. The music swirls up to a tremendous passage with some breathtaking, glorious orchestral playing through which so many instrumental sounds appear. The RLPO’s playing is absolutely exhilarating and, as timpani thunder out, we regain the stately flow of the opening but this time with a real sense of strength and drive before hurtling full tilt to the blazing coda.

This is quite frankly a superb Fifth, full of dynamism, brooding attitude, revealing moments rarely pointed up.  In short it is a thrilling performance. This is the start of a cycle that promises to rank among the finest on disc.

Andrew Cornall and his recording team deserve a mention for bringing an incredibly vivid recording made in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK.

There are useful notes from Jeremy Nicholas.

See also: 

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