tue 13/11/2018

Prom 66, Wang, Berlin Philharmonic, Petrenko review - intense perfection | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 66, Wang, Berlin Philharmonic, Petrenko review - intense perfection

Prom 66, Wang, Berlin Philharmonic, Petrenko review - intense perfection

The Berlin players have made a brilliant choice in their Chief Conductor Designate

What a team: Yuja Wang, Kirill Petrenko and the Berlin PhilharmonicAll images Chris Christodoulou/BBC

Setting aside any reservations about a slight overall timidity in repertoire choices - no problems with that last night - this year's Proms have worked unexpectedly well, above all with their weekend strands. The trump card with the usual roster of international visitors gracing the final week was to get two of the greatest orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, and two of, let's say, the half-dozen most interesting conductors worldwide, Kirill Petrenko and Andris Nelsons, to bookend a Sunday in which they are to appear one after the other. Last night proved a totally triumphant fanfare, both brilliant and profound.

If Nelsons has yet to prove that he can eschew an occasional grandiosity in his white-heat conducting, Petrenko on this evidence - and that of his Barbican Mahler Seventh with the Bavarian State Orchestra earlier in the year - has no kind of fault or flaw. He is as focused in his suppleness as Carlos Kleiber - I invoked the comparison back in June, not realising that others, conductors included, have been doing the same - and much more collegial than the man many thought would take over the Berlin Philharmonic, Christian Thielemann, an alchemist in limited repertoire but not a people person. He is also a joy to watch, especially in his more expansive gestures, and by all accounts a welcome change as far as the Berlin players are concerned to the heavier branding of Simon Rattle. The collaboration is already leading the orchestra of which Petrenko is Chief Conductor Designate to unanticipated heights. Kirill Petrenko and the Berlin PhilharmonicDepths, too. What a daring choice to follow the collective brass tuckets leading into the main dance-poem of Dukas's La Péri and the solo clarinet that kicks off Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto - Andras Ottensamer, phrasing the Russian melody like I never heard it before - with the mournful solo trumpet of Franz Schmidt's Fourth Symphony. Proms championship of the late-romantic Slovakian German has already given us a good performance of the apocalyptic oratorio The Book with Seven Seals and a superb one of the Second Symphony from Semyon Bychkov and the Vienna Philharmonic (also recorded, a beauty). The Fourth is the dark polar opposite of the Second’s bright stream, with an equally original approach to form. It was composed between 1932 and 1933, when the composer was mourning the loss of his only daughter and facing his own mortality (it might have been better if he had died soon after, for his unwilling implication in the messages of the Nazis left his reputation in shreds for decades after his death).

If, unlike the Second, the Fourth has a weakness, it’s in the material of the Adagio’s main frail aspiration and the sombre funeral march at its centre, although from an exquisite cello solo onwards, both were compellingly built by razor-sharp Petrenko. The related outer movements, though, are guided by that mournful trumpet motif and a glistening gem of a second theme, vintage Schmidt in its romantic turns, modulations and dash of gypsy music. Its transformation here, luminous like everything else in the performance and prefaced by a glorious horn chorus, was all the more moving for Schmidt’s refusal to come out into the light at the climax. The trumpet has the last note of the requiem.

Petrenko made sure that before this dark, rich earth the first half flew into the air in two very different works. La Péri gave us as mobile and dance-intense a performance as Jonathan’s Nott’s of Debussy’s Jeux with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande earlier in the Proms. Is it heretical to say that I enjoy the Dukas rather more? It has two excellent, languid-sensual themes – the first set up by peerless flautist Emmanuel Pahud, the second lilting on those gorgeous and subtle Berlin strings. Yuja Wang in Prokofiev ThreeIn the Prokofiev, Petrenko and Yuja Wang (pictured above) were an ideal mercurial partnership, even if he seemed to watch her more than she did him. Her chimerical crispness gave an extra buoyancy to the cornucopia of invention – “how can a single work of art display so much genius?” she asks in a programme interview with theartsdesk's David Kettle – and was offset by a remote magic for the mysteries at the heart of the first movement and in the central theme and variations. The vivacious ascents of the Allegro were as fast as I’ve ever heard them, complete with creative lion roars in the bass, but why not, when your partners can keep tabs on you? It was a very different story from Khatia Buniatishvili’s unmusical extremes in the Grieg Concerto, betraying an otherwise brilliant Prom from the Estonian National Orchestra and Paavo Järvi. Wang proves you can do the glamour and be a great artist too.

I did wish she'd had built pure reflection into her encores after all that dazzle, though. The cavalcade of Rachmaninov’s G minor Prelude lacked trumpets in the right hand, but compensated by the bringing out of an inner line in the contrasting lyricism. And Wang’s trademark performance of Arcadi Volodos's fantasia on Mozart’s "Rondo alla Turca" might have pleased those who hadn’t heard it before rather more. Brilliant stuff all the same. Petrenko and the Berliners gave no encore after the Schmidt. I can understand why – the elegiac note almost forbids one – but I was so hoping we could hear the Berlin strings flaming in the composer’s dizzying intermezzo from his opera Notre Dame. Petrenko will simply have to conduct the whole thing. His Beethoven Seventh tonight will surely confirm that the label of "the new Carlos Kleiber" is well deserved.

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