mon 15/07/2024

Alder, RPO, Petrenko, RFH review - strings and soprano sing their hearts out | reviews, news & interviews

Alder, RPO, Petrenko, RFH review - strings and soprano sing their hearts out

Alder, RPO, Petrenko, RFH review - strings and soprano sing their hearts out

A national treasure steps in to nail Richard Strauss’s trickiest song-sequence

Louise Alder acclaimed by Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic OrchestraAll images by Andy Paradise

Had it taken place a week later, this concert might have gone under the dubious banner of "Valentine's Day Love Classics". But not of the bitty, Raymond Gubbay variety: Vasily Petrenko was absolute master of three late romantic scores which happened to work well together, and Louise Alder – stepping in for an unwell Jennifer France – showed she could surmount a demanding rarity, and carry it off with flying, smiling, self-deprecating colours.

Richard Strauss's six 1918 settings of lyrics by Clemens Brentano ask the near-impossible of a lyric soprano (it would be interesting to know how dedicatee Elisabeth Schumann coped). Often we hear one or two of them, or all but the last, where Strauss, having asked his lyric to turn dizzying coloratura in "Amor", demands that she ride a billowing full orchestra in dramatic-soprano mode for "Lied der Frauen" ("Song of Women").

No wonder Alder reached for a glass of water before the show-offy, harmonically wayward antics of Cupid, or made a comic gesture of relief after the storm-tossed finale. While I wonder whether France, a lighter voice, would have crested the waves as gleamingly, the surprise here was to discover that Alder could sing her colleague's keynote role, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, given the full armour of top notes, trills and flounces she mastered in chasing the blind, winged child of the penultimate song. Louise Alder and Vasiy PetrenkoWhat a layered, disorienting set of songs it is: while the opening "An die nacht" ("To the night") looks forward to Four Last Songs refulgence, a lighter touch is needed to match the instrumental filigree of "Ich wollt' ein Sträußlein binden" ("I wanted to make you a posy") and "Säusle, liebe Myrthe!" ("Rustle, dear myrtle!"). With her profound musicality and attention to text as well as ideal phrasing, Alder never missed a trick, and stayed clear of the archness we hear from some Straussian greats. She's recorded the set, with Robin Ticciati, but a live challenge is something else. A production of Strauss's late masterpiece Daphne should be mounted for her as soon as possible.

Petrenko's flexibility in Elgar and Rachmaninov was a given (what a worthy successor he is in this repertoire to Yuri Temirkanov, who conducted memorable Rachmaninov with the RPO). I can't hear the opening of Cockaigne (In London Town) without thinking of a BBC Symphony Orchestra member telling me how an over-touted Chinese conductor panicked on the held note a few bars in and asked the players to help him out. Petrenko's graceful assurance there was a sign of things to come, with nimbleness, peak brilliance and a permissibe licence with the big romantic tune (the work is packed with great ideas). Vasily Petrenko conductng the RPOThe lyric purple passages might have been a bit overdone in Rachmaninov's Second Symphony – most popular of the three, but arguably the least personal and original – especially given how often they come around the first two movements – the Adagio is a thing apart – but the one in the finale, Moscow or Petersburg glitter perhaps, to complement Elgar's London, truly took flight. So much hangs on layered string writing, and we were perhaps too close to the concert platform to judge whether the RPO sound has depth as well as brilliance (the Festival Hall acoustics are ungiving, too). But the articulation Petrenko gets from his players is always impressive: scherzo and finale bounced and flew, with superlative horn playing, and the dash to the finishing post had half the audience on its feet. Roll on The Bells, Rachmaninov's "choral symphony", as well as Elgar's Second, in this unmissable "Icons Rediscovered" series.

Scherzo and finale bounced and flew, with superlative horn playing, and the dash to the finishing post had half the audience on its feet


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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