Vasily Petrenko’s Carnegie Hall debut with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

United StatesUnited States Weber, Mozart, Shostakovich: Rudolf Buchbinder (piano), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York, 9.11.2019. (RP)

Vasily Petrenko (conductor) with the BRSO © Richard Termine

WeberEuryanthe Op.81, Overture
Mozart – Piano Concerto No.23 in A major K.488
Shostakovich – Symphony No.10 Op.93

Who would conduct the second of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall concerts? In a triumph of spirit over body, Mariss Jansons had made it through Friday evening’s concert, but it was clear that he did not have the physical stamina to return for the second one. By mid-afternoon it was announced that Vasily Petrenko would be conducting in his place, a rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick by Carnegie Hall and the BRSO that could hardly be topped.

As luck would have it, Petrenko, currently chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the principal conductor of the European Union Youth Orchestra, had just arrived in New York to begin rehearsals for Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades at the Metropolitan Opera, which was to have been his New York debut later in the month. Seizing the moment, Petrenko strode on to the stage of Carnegie Hall and triumphed. If the baton had to be passed, how fitting that it was to this dynamic young conductor who had studied with Jansons.

Orchestras have their own unique personalities, and the BRSO’s emanates from its woodwind section: they play with such brio. However, in the opening work, the overture to Weber’s Euryanthe, it was the string section that impressed, especially the silken tones of the violins. Later in the overture, eight muted violins imparted an eerie transparency to music that evoked the spectral world, one Weber’s favorite compositional devices. If there were any doubts as to whether Petrenko was up to the task, his confident, energetic presence on the podium and the brilliant playing of the orchestra in the Weber immediately dispelled them.

The courtly master of the piano, Rudolf Buchbinder, was the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23. This piano concerto finds Mozart at his most elegant and expressive, qualities that were amplified by Buchbinder’s exquisitely articulated playing. The first movement ended with the gentlest of sighs, while the second was enlivened by the witty musical dialogue of the pianist and wind players, who bobbed merrily as they played. Petrenko’s reading of the first two movements was as refined as that of the pianist; in the third movement, all joined forces to weave Mozart’s melodies into a joyous romp. For an encore, Buchbinder played Grünfeld’s Soirée de Vienne, filling the hall with the waltzes of Johann Strauss II.

Fortune indeed had smiled. Not only was Petrenko on hand, but he has recorded all 15 of Shostakovich’s symphonies with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, so no change of program was necessary. His recording of the Tenth Symphony, which is universally acclaimed as one of Shostakovich’s greatest works, received particular praise from the critics.

Petrenko took a measured approach to this monumental work. The massive first movement built slowly in spacious, sweeping phrases to its climax, while the details – incisive bowing from the contrabasses, the haunting flute melody over pizzicato strings, the brilliant piccolo duet and the evocative solo clarinet – emerged clearly from the structure that Petrenko imposed upon it.

The savage playing of the cellos and contrabasses electrified the second movement, while the beautiful sound of the solo horn hovered over the complex Scherzo. Petrenko held sway over the finale which he paced perfectly, from the brooding opening theme announced by the lower strings to the dazzling climax replete with horns and timpani. Throughout, the woodwinds again dispatched their solos with virtuosity, wit and heaps of personality.

For an encore, the orchestra played the Entr’acte (Allegretto) from Act III of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It is searing, exciting music that bristles with energy, and it brought the concert to a fiery end.

The emotional and musical impact of these concerts will resonate for some time to come with anyone who experienced them. It was a roller-coaster ride for all involved, and even more so for the members of the BRSO who captured each of the highs and lows of the two evenings in their playing. For Petrenko, it was a personal triumph. Fingers crossed that lightning strikes twice for him this month.

Rick Perdian

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