Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool. January 22nd, 2012.

by admin on January 26, 2012 · 5 comments

in Live Music Reviews

By James Norris


Adams: The Chairman Dances
Hindemith: Nobilissima visione
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 ‘Leningrad’

Shostakovich was on his way to a football game when it was announced that Russia had been invaded by the German army in 1941. Instead of attending the match, he went immediately to the nearest recruiting office to sign up to fight in the Russian army. He was refused and had to settle for being a volunteer fire-fighter while the bombs rained down. This terrifying experience was the catalyst for the writing of the 7th Symphony ‘Leningrad’.

At least that was what the official Soviet state said.

It now transpires that Shostakovich may well have started writing the work before the siege and for a different reason, possibly for those who suffered under the Stalin oppression. Either way, the stuff of legend was born when it was finally performed in Leningrad in August 1942 by a combination of Red Army musicians and what was left of the Radio and Ballet orchestras (who were half starved and so weak that some could hardly play their instruments at the first rehearsal).

Petrenko’s Liverpool Phil/Naxos recordings of Shostakovich Symphonies are making waves in music circles so it was no surprise that a capacity audience was present for their performance of the 7th — the recording of the Leningrad Symphony will be released shortly. [If it's anything like, 1, 8 and 10, it'll be a knockout! - Ed]

Petrenko takes a less aggressive view of the work than some other interpreters but does not lose the power and drama of its climactic moments. He builds the momentum with great control and contrasts the more tender episodes with strong and taught rhythms as the music unfolds to its ultimate victorious conclusion.

There was fine playing from the entire orchestra and whilst it might be unfair to single out individuals, praise must go to Cormac Henry, Jonathan Small and Nicholas Cox respectively on flute, oboe and clarinet together with Alan Pendlebury on bassoon for fine moments during the middle movements, especially.

The lustre of the RLPO strings gave an overall canopy to the sound and the brass gave a blazing account of themselves when needed.

Petrenko presented the work with great clarity and detail and this was also evident in the two opening works – John Adams’ The Chairman Dances (from his opera Nixon in China) and Hindemith’s Nobilissima visione. Adams’ jaunty and biting rhythms came across with crystal precision not least from a cracking percussion section led by Graham Johns.

A standing ovation provided an uplifting and much deserved coda to an afternoon of high drama. As we left the hall one lady remarked that she remembered the May Blitz of 1940 in Liverpool – two cities in adversity.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

admin 01.26.12 at 4:45 pm

Wish I could have been there, Jim. Will look forward to the Naxos CD.

Folks should read the Telegraph review of the same concert. It has become quite an infamous review considering that all others raved about the performance.

Jim 01.27.12 at 7:47 pm

Yes, I don’t know why Fanning didn’t like it, he’s certainly come in for some stick on the RLPO facebook link!
I would place it in my top 5 performances I’ve heard in the last two years certainly maybe even the last five.

Nigel Smith 01.28.12 at 6:13 am

I was at this performance as well as the “pre-peat” on the 19th and it managed to exceed my already high expectations. I agree with all that you say about the structure, tension and superb playing in this performance.
I guess we can’t please everybody, and musical taste is avery subjective thing, but two standing ovations say a lot.
Contrary to some people’s view (no names, no pack drill) we actually have a very knowledgeable and discerning core audience at Philharmonic Hall and standing o’s don’t come ten-a-penny here. The fact that we have seen a few in past months is testament to the brilliant musicianship that is shining through from our great world-class team here.

Jim 01.28.12 at 8:56 am

I agree completely with you on this. It’s been a great pleasure to review the Phil recordings over the last few years and great to see labels like DG using the orchestra for core repertoire. Having been a long time supporter of the orchestra since the 70’s it is a wonderful tribute to the team and the development of the City of my birth.

admin 01.28.12 at 9:46 am

In all my years in England, I only saw one standing O. When Boult walked on to conduct Elgar 1 with the LSO very late in his life.

You’re right, Nigel. Unlike this side of the pond, they are very rare over there. Must have been some show.

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