Concert Review: Britten, Schubert/Liszt and Shostakovich - RLPO/Vasily Petrenko

21 January 2017, Leeds Town Hall

Britten: Sea Interludes from 'Peter Grimes'
Schubert/Liszt: Wanderer Fantasy
Shostakovich: Symphony No 12 "The Year 1917"

Teo Ghergiou (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

An unconventional programme drew Leeds folk to a pretty packed Town Hall.  Aficionados of Shostakovich will travel a long way to hear Petrenko and it proved to be worth the trip for all three pieces.  The clever and zesty Fantasy filled a gap that came as a relief from the stark pictorialism of the Britten and the portentous narrative of the Shostakovich both also heavy with incipient menace.  

The sinister case of fisherman Grimes pervade the scenes of the sea off Suffolk: there's obvious darkness in this music as well as great beauty. Petrenko didn’t shy away from slow stillness or darkness, leaving the scene well painted but heavy with the air of murder and madness.

Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy is pretty well known though this is the first time I've come across the orchestrated extrapolation by Liszt. Teo Gheorgiu was a beaming presence, confident and not flamboyant but thrilling - he more then held his own when Liszt's orchestration.  He put on a bravura show as did the orchestra of this rarity - I liked it a lot.  A brief galloping Lisztian? encore followed.   

I love watching Petrenko conduct - he looks as if he has all the time in the world and his manner is both very attentive, direct but quite economical. There is a strong bond with the players and the mutual appreciation was plain to see.  He has brought the orchestra to a very high level in Shostakovich interpretation so this concert wasn't to be missed. 

There are comparatively few live performances of the Twelfth symphony - it seems to me to be a very fine but difficult work.  Although the Twelfth (1961) appears to follow much of the programmatic line as the Eleventh (1957), it doesn't depict of events like the earlier work.  It is better described as an evocation of the places described in the subtitles. It is a curious work - quite traditional and seemingly at times repetitive but it is hard to decipher like so many works of this great composer living in difficult times.

The style of Petrenko's Shostakovich is quite particular.  He builds climaxes up methodically but unleashes the orchestra at just the right time (generally a bit later than most others would).  Having bathed in the glory of two of his live performances of the Fourth Symphony I now hear that much of his appeal to me is the delineation of those darker lines.  And he has equipped his orchestra to deal with them. The delicate balance of the percussion, the weight of lower string in propulsive rhythms and counter melodies and very careful articulation of the low brass.  I felt fortunate to have heard such a fine orchestra reveal the inner workings of this cinderella symphony with skill and most of all passion.  

It was the terrifying presence of the present in music depicting events 100 years ago which hist home. The hall burst into a applause.  I sat a moment in shock.  More than one departing listener whistled a folk tune from the last work - maybe like the Russians in 1917 - such things will keep our sense of who we are.


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