Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Opening the evening, the Suite from Appalachian Spring, Aaron Copland’s score for Martha Graham’s choreography (in the composer’s orchestral adaptation of the thirteen-player original). Vasily Petrenko seemed to have little sympathy for this wonderful music, incisively played as it was (save for a few tentative instances), although therein lies the problem, for what should glow with sentiment, and go directly to the listener’s core, came across as unfeeling, with rhythms entrenched rather than buoyant, let alone playful in the square-dance episode, and, as broadcast, with strident fortissimos at points. Only did things soften in the epilogue … too late.

Centenary composer George Walker (who died in 2018) composed his Trombone Concerto in 1957. It has its moments, whether energetic, wistful, or chugging along, if sometimes over-scored, without ever suggesting it would become a friend for life. Still, at seventeen minutes it’s short enough and received a brilliant performance from Peter Moore, with the RPO and Petrenko altogether happier with Walker than with Copland. Moore’s meandering encore, by David Uber, served only to confirm his mastery of the instrument.

Prokofiev’s Opus 100 Fifth Symphony (1944, contemporaneous with the Copland) found Petrenko fully inside the music, probing it, the RPO responding in kind and with intensity, the first movement brooding yet striving, Petrenko moving majestically to the big climax, for which something extra was found … then straight into the Scherzo – effective (Oramo does similarly), thankfully not sabotaged by unthinking clapping – at a tempo fast enough for the players to be walking along a tightrope, negotiated surefootedly however, and energised throughout, the gawky/accelerating coda precisely calibrated to a whirlwind conclusion. The slow movement, music on the dark side, was spaciously accounted for, certain aspects of the orchestration made especially lucid, Petrenko in no rush to release the music’s peak, which, when it came, was unflinching. The Finale (again attacca) was delightfully balletic, but beware the warnings of the mechanistic ending, which Petrenko drove brazenly, unsettlingly. (But why the change of acoustic in the last few seconds, like a bad edit?) This was a forty-five-minute account, this Symphony’s average playing-time, but there was nothing average about this performance.