Words By Allison Renker
Vasily Petrenko moves with an awkwardness that conceals genius. The Russian-born conductor, soon to take the helm as Musical Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, has dazzled audiences round the world and can now add the Welsh public to this group. This Wednesday, with his unique, unassuming conducting style Petrenko steered the Oslo Philharmonic through the streets of Shakespeare’s Verona, Rachmaninoff’s Russia and across the open planes of Finland otherwise known as St David’s hall. The programme was a special one and those present at the pre-concert talk given by Cardiff University’s own, Dr Keith Chapin were given a valuable fresh-insight into the minds and sound worlds of three of the canon’s best loved composers.
Opening with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, with it’s three distinct themes, an audible struggle between warring families was beautifully combined with that tender fantasy of young lovers. The infamous love-theme, first sounded in the cor anglaise and muted violas, was nurtured with a wonderful sensitivity before growing to a final tragic statement that was felt in the hearts of all.
Of course, the star of the evening was soloist Nikolai Lugansky. Described by Gramophone as “the most trailblazing and meteoric performer of all”, Lugansky commanded the stage, holding the audience in the palm of his hands right from the simpler opening chords of the Concerto No.3, just as much as he dazzled with the characteristically Rach, flying fingers later on. His deft accuracy and crisp articulation were outstanding, delivered with no want of artistry. The program notes described how Rachmaninoff would shorten performances if he perceived inattentiveness in an audience by its coughing; there was very little coughing.
Sibelius’ 5th Symphony tormented the writer for several years, with revisions made in both 1916 and 1919. He described it “as if God the Father had thrown the pieces of mosaic from heaven’s floor and asked me to discover how they had been”. If God had been listening this evening, I think he would have liked what it became. That soaring finale allowed the audience to truly imagine the sight of 16 swans that had so inspired Sibelius, taking flight, truly capturing “nature’s mysticism and life’s lament” in their interpretation.
We were treated to not one, but two wonderful encores, the applause only being quieted by the sounds of morning breaking and flautist Tom Ottar Andreassen heralding the recognisable dawn from Grieg’s Peer Gynt with a tone that shimmered brighter even than the golden flute it came from. Not yet pacified however, it took a rousing rendition of that bold show of virtuosity and universal crowd favourite- Brahms, rollicking Hungarian Dance No.5- to bring the evening to a triumphant finish.
The Oslo Philharmonic brings a passion and fire that is able to excite even the most wearied listener. One only has to observe the visible feeling in the violas to see that this orchestra truly understands music.
“Bravos” echoed round the hall.