RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
This really is Tchaikovsk y-playing that bursts with sunshine, the strings imitating strummed balalaikas
Mark Pullinger hails the completion of Vasily Petrenko’s Tchaikovsky symphony cycle,
with exceptionally fine playing from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Tchaikovsky Symphonies – No 3, ‘Polish’, Op 29; No 4, Op 36; No 6, ‘Pathétique’, Op 74 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko Onyx M b ONYX4162 (118’ • DDD)
This release completes Vasily Petrenko’s impressive Tchaikovsky symphony cycle with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for Onyx, entirely living up to the early promise offered by last year’s set of Nos 1, 2 and 5 (8/16), which was my nomination for Critics’ Choice in 2016. Petrenko’s fast and furious approach once again pays off with invigorating performances which dispel Russian gloom. The RLPO play their socks off and must rank as one of the finest ‘Russian orchestras’ in the UK today.
It’s no surprise that Petrenko’s Fourth is a white-knuckle ride, speedy with dramatic hairpin dynamics. The Liverpool brass are imposing in the opening ‘Fate’ fanfare, although not quite as abrasive as Yevgeny Mravinsky’s Leningrad Phil, still the benchmark for the final three symphonies.
Petrenko bustles the movement along on waves of nervous anxiety and heart-on-sleeve emotion. The cantabile oboe in the second movement is beautifully sculpted but is always
8 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017
kept on the move. Petrenko leads a lightning fast pizzicato Scherzo – like dazzlingly executed pirouettes – interrupted by bucolic woodwinds. The finale bursts in and is helter-skelter fast, but never quite threatens to spiral out of control, whereas a frenzied Mravinsky teeters on the very brink.
Petrenko keeps the music fluid, with a fine sense of its architecture
Petrenko initially hurries into the Pathétique, although Semyon Bychkov finds more tension in his recent account, the Czech Philharmonic strings fretting more urgently in the passages reminiscent of Herman’s troubled mind in The Queen of Spades. Petrenko relaxes into the Andante section of the first movement (4'21"), just at the point where Bychkov sweeps forward – contrasting approcahes.
After the clarinet and bass clarinet – no bassoon for the final four quavers of that phrase – coil down to Tchaikovsky’s notorious pppppp marking, the power Petrenko unleashes in the Allegro vivo which follows (at 9'47") is startling.
The lopsided 5/4 Waltz is slightly breathless – in an invigorating way – and the bushy-tailed March packs a tremendous punch. Petrenko launches straight into the finale, which is neither as fevered as Mravinsky’s electrifying reading nor as fast as Bychkov’s recent rethinking. It’s movingly done, though, lower woodwinds and strings again impressing, brass building to a fine climax (8'09") before the steady decline and fade into oblivion.
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