United Kingdom Grieg, Rachmaninov, Mahler: Simon Trpčeski (piano), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko (conductor), The Bridgewater Hall International Concert Series, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 8.3.2016. (MC)
Grieg: Gangar (Norwegian March) from Lyric Suite, Op. 54
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor
Mahler: Symphony No 5
Owing to his chief conductorship of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily Petrenko is especially admired in the North West of England. Manchester audiences have already seen Petrenko conduct the Liverpool Philharmonic at the Bridgewater Hall and now having become its chief conductor in the 2013/14 season.
To open the programme Petrenko curiously chose Gangar (Norwegian March) from Grieg’s Lyric Suite, Op. 54. Lasting around three minutes it seemed over in a flash and I wondered why this rather unexceptional work had been selected. Originally written for solo piano several of the Lyric Suite pieces have been orchestrated including the memorable March of the Trolls which would have made a far superior option.
Simon Trpčeski first came to my attention in 2007 with an impressive Chopin recital disc on EMI, and the Macedonian pianist is a regular collaborator with Petrenko. Radiating calm assurance with Rachmaninov’s much loved Piano Concerto No. 2 Trpčeski dazzled the audience. Right from the opening Moderato movement the impact of the intense romantic expression felt as boldly compelling as when I first encountered the work some forty years ago. Not given to wallowing in overt sentimentality and ostentatious display Trpčeski’s direct approach worked splendidly delivering a poetic atmosphere and refinement of colour. In the famous Adagio sostenuto the amount of yearning communicated by Trpčeski was meltingly beautiful with everything so cleanly articulated. In the Finale the reappearance of the lyrical theme and weight of the jubilant conclusion made quite an impact. Throughout Petrenko ensured that the orchestral balance was sympathetic to the soloist. To mark the death of a relative Trpčeski with principal cellist Louisa Tuck played Rachmaninov’s Vocalise as an encore.
A concert programme staple today Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 has become a work that is virtually guaranteed to attract good audiences. I have certainly heard more intense, heart on sleeve performances than this reading from Petrenko who seemed to be demonstrating the adage that less is more. Displaying a special proclivity for late-Romantic music one soon began to notice the considerable sincerity that Petrenko supplied to the score and his Oslo players responded with expressive playing imbued with character and vigour. Striking was the way the tension was maintained at high voltage in the often grotesque Funeral March and the densely textured second movement felt like remarkably colourful depiction of vivid nature sounds. Petrenko was careful not to take the Scherzo too quickly. With his Oslo players fashioning a scene of verdant Alpine vistas, it felt like I was reading personal pages from Mahler’s holiday diary. Clearly the musings of a love struck composer the light and whirling waltz passage was delightfully done. Without deliberately overforcing the passion Petenko’s interpretation of the justly famous Adagietto felt like an intimate declaration of love for Alma. Just crackling along the Rondo-Finale was ebullient with a captivating sense of optimism full of the sights and sounds of Alpine vistas. Petrenko demanded a surge of tremendous energy to bring the work to a triumphant close that had the audience cheering enthusiastically. Fifteen strong here the Oslo brass section deserves a special mention for playing of elevated quality, especially the solos from the trumpet and horn principals.