sat 25/05/2024

Bavarian State Orchestra, Kirill Petrenko, Barbican review - Mahler's Seventh as dance suite | reviews, news & interviews

Bavarian State Orchestra, Kirill Petrenko, Barbican review - Mahler's Seventh as dance suite

Bavarian State Orchestra, Kirill Petrenko, Barbican review - Mahler's Seventh as dance suite

The febrile master bound for Berlin makes life-enhancing magic with his Müncheners

Kirill Petrenko conducting last night: the most communicative of conductorsAll images by Wilfried Hösl

Serendipity as well as luxury saw to it that the night after Simon Rattle gave his farewell Festival Hall performance as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, his imminent successor appeared over at the Barbican with another excellent German orchestra.

We've only rarely encountered Kirill (not to be confused with honorary Liverpudlian Vasily) Petrenko in the UK up to now, so the contrast was instructive. While one shouldn't compare incomparables, it's tempting on this evidence to suggest that Rattle is more earth, Petrenko airier, with a shared fire when the Englishman's at his best. But this Mahler Seventh was absolutely superlative on every level, with something of Carlos Kleiber's febrile magic about it.

As the symphony which exposes every orchestral department and soloist more relentlessly than any of the others, it doesn't allow an under-prepared performance, and I've never heard one either live or on disc. Rattle's Birmingham performance was my Building a Library choice on BBC Radio 3 back in the 1990s; his Berlin Prom proved the finest thing he's ever done with the orchestra, in this country, at least. Petrenko well knows that Mariss Jansons, his opposite number over at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (this, to be clear, is the orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera), has also made the Seventh a vivid cornerstone of his repertoire. But he has ideas of his own, and how he gets this other great Munich band to execute them. Kirill Petrenko and the Bavarian State Orchestra at the BarbicanIt seemed at first as if there might even be an element of abstraction in the rather springy treatment, once past the baleful tenor-horn led opening, of the first movement's night march with flaming torches. The intention seemed clear: to make a dance suite out of a five-movement symphony harking back to Bach, and maybe also looking across to Tchaikovsky's experiments in the genre. But how evocatively, with spine-tinglingly precise trumpet fanfares, did Petrenko and his orchestra lead us into the central nocturne by masterly degrees; how quickly they plunged us back into the hurly-burly, and how ineffably he hit the biggest climax before the tumultuous coda.

His rapport with chuntering clarinets in the first "night music" movement could be laugh-out-loud funny, with no stitches dropped as we moved seamlessly into a Schubert melody and the central melancholy, wistfully inflected with klezmer strains. The groans and screams of Haunted Ballroom Central at midnight were accompanied by a sometimes hectic sense of a very bad waltz-dream; the dawn serenade, that miracle of transition from the nocturnal to the daylight world, also went about its business briskly, guitar and mandolin clear from their position alongside the harps, but with plenty of room for shadows – albeit not the longer ones more doggedly Mahlerian conductors insist upon – and a final laying to rest with the most exquisite, cusp-of-audibility clarinet trills. Bavarian State Orchestra players at end of Mahler SeventhThere are those who insist that the Meistersinger-on-acid finale, with its not-quite repetitions and tottering carnival floats, is a problem, but Rattle, Abbado and Jansons changed all that, and Petrenko gave us the most incisive, spirited performance of it you’ll ever hear. Again, the playful, dancing rapport between the balletic but never self-indulgent conductor and his orchestra, strings lurching and pirouetting, could not have been more enjoyable to watch; the trumpets on the high wire never split, and the final welcoming of the night-processional theme into the fold seemed utterly convincing.

Given the energy that galvanised us and the players, footstamping their approval at the end (pictured above, the players congratulating each other after the final bow), it might have been fun to get the Prelude to Wagner’s comedy as an encore, but there will be time enough for all that, not least at the Bavarian State Opera, and Petrenko’s visits to the Proms with the Berlin Philharmonic absolutely can’t be missed.

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