Recorded at concerts given either side of the October 2015 announcement that Kirill Petrenko would be the next Chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, starting his tenure on August 19, 2019, the chosen repertoire for this release – superbly recorded on five CDs and two Blu-ray DVDs, the audience unobtrusive, applause removed, and handsomely presented in chocolate-box-like housing, smart-looking if a little impractical as regards accessing and returning the discs, with a copiously annotated if glued-in book – leans mostly to the core, all Symphonies.
First is a quickstep but not hard-driven Beethoven 7, fleet and fiery, rhythms buoyant, with lyrical asides that touch the heart, a second-movement Allegretto that is poetic and dynamically wide, and a fast-forward Finale (dramatically ‘attached’ to the Scherzo) that remains controlled and lucid, despite its runaway train impression. Then there’s Beethoven 9 (‘Choral’), suitably uplifting and sublime, all over in sixty-two minutes (even with all repeats observed in the Scherzo and Trio). The first movement nips along yet preserves a sense of occasion – once again, even with his foot down, Petrenko doesn’t miss a shape or a subtlety, a ‘historically informed’ approach (it could be said) with the full-blooded luxury of the Berlin Phil at maximum strength. With a slow movement that wafts in from the Elysian Fields (the music allowed to breathe and express) and a Finale that flies the Brotherhood banner as high as it will go – fine singing from soloists and choir – this is an exhilarating, moving and stirring account.
The other ‘core’ composer is Tchaikovsky, his Fifth and Sixth (‘Pathétique’) Symphonies. Is-dotted and Ts-crossed, then the music-making can begin, exploring the emotions behind the music in all their complexity, achieved here without distorting the composer’s notated intentions, whether impassioned or melancholic, and much else – compelling stuff throughout, the slow Finale of No.6 is especially poignant without ever becoming mawkish (although, technically, my copy has a two-second hiatus just before the movement begins). Whereas the Sixth fades to nothingness, the Fifth ends in brassy triumph, here thrilling as pressed ahead, and in the second-movement Andante cantabile there is a notable horn solo, from Stefan Dohr presumably.
These four works are afforded a disc each, yet there are quite a few BP/KP performances to choose from that emanate from these concerts to have filled-out the carriers, such as Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung, Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ Symphony and Berg’s Lulu Suite, all of which I recall from Digital Concert Hall relays as also being impressive.
The final CD is a must-have: Franz Schmidt’s wonderful Fourth Symphony and Rudi Stephan’s Music for Orchestra. Stephan (1887-1915), killed in action during World War One as a member of the German Army, was clearly a composer of promise, as this fifteen-minute piece suggests, darkly lyrical and turbulent – volatile, always imaginative, and his use of a large orchestra is very skilled – not related to, if stylistically not that far away from Webern’s Im Sommerwind. The Schmidt (1933) has been Desert Island (or Last Rites) music for me ever since Zubin Mehta’s Decca LP of it was released all those years ago (Vienna Philharmonic). Petrenko has it solidly in his repertoire, and, without indulgence (not something one could ever accuse him off), he leads a flowing yet deeply affecting reading, played with intensity, bloom and Innigkeit; heartfelt cello solos, and the Scherzo is especially vital. A shame though that its concert-companion, Dukas’s La Péri, is excluded when the CD has room for it.
Overall, these renditions will stand the test of time and they also point the way forward to the next illustrious chapter in the Berliner Philharmoniker’s history.