Friday, 24 February 2017

Elgar's Second Symphony: Vasily Petrenko

I greatly admired and enjoyed Vasily Petrenko's recording of Elgar's first symphony with the Liverpool Philharmonic and waited impatiently for his recording of the more complex second symphony that Petrenko recorded in 2016. It arrived today and was given an immediate hearing. I was not disappointed; it's a magnificent reading (and recording) of the work.

Elgar is not easy to conduct. His music needs to keep moving, and needs a conductor who can grade the dynamics in what is a long work weighing in at over one hour. Petrenko succeeds in Elgar, just as he succeeds in Shostakovich. I continue to be amazed at the prowess of the Liverpool Philharmonic under Petrenko's baton. In particular, the brass and the woodwind impress. In the last analysis, perhaps the violins could do with more Russian or German heft at the main climaxes (for example, the wonderful moment towards the end of the larghetto when the first violins swoop down, fortissimo, from on high). But, on this evidence, not many orchestras could equal the Liverpudlians under Petrenko in this music.

By coincidence, the last performance of this work I listened to was also by a Petrenko; Kirill Petrenko (no relation, except both Petrenkos – or Petrenki – are Russian) conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. That also was excellent. Perhaps Elgar appeals to Petrenki. Their conducting of Elgar certainly appeals to me.

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