Clemens Brentano (1778-1842)

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

At least if it’s a live broadcast one doesn’t have to fanny around looking for a concert date that Radio 3 may not have supplied; and it was good to find a relay in this evening slot that didn’t include works by Mahler or Shostakovich – both recently given excessive exposure. That said, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony doesn’t lack for attention either, rarely off the radar. Vasily Petrenko’s conducting of it was mostly impressive, so too the RPO’s response, soulful and ruminative initially, suggestive of the expansive performance that materialised – the first-movement exposition agreeably ebbing and flowing, second subject lingered over, enough for the repeat to not be needed (which was Petrenko’s decision), with calibrated passion stalking the development, subsequent repose transformed into a striding coda and – OMG – a very unfortunate additional timpani stroke, which voided the twenty minutes just gone. The Scherzo was festive, luxuriantly melodic and fugally precise, followed by a spacious Adagio, with a haunting clarinet solo from Sonya Sielaff and string-playing both tender and voluptuous, the sun-goeth-down conclusion touchingly transformed into, riposted by a fleet bright-day Finale that knew where it was heading – to a summit-arriving and athletic ending. There was a dedication to the late Yuri Temirkanov.

Elgar’s perennially fresh ‘concert overture’ Cockaigne (In London Town), from 1901, opened proceedings, a springy, affectionate and exuberant account, arguably too stretched but better this music be loved and (somewhat) sectionalised than tightly wrapped in an unrelenting metronome; thus rhythms skipped, the marching band had swagger, the aftermath of which was eloquent reflection, and the coda was joyous. Cueing Samuel Johnson – “… when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…” – Petrenko appears smitten with the capital, however different to the one Elgar knew; or maybe he relishes the nostalgia the music now evokes.

Richard Strauss’s Sechs Lieder nach Gedichten von Clemens Brentano, Opus 68 (1918 with piano; orchestrated 1933/40) was the centrepiece, Louise Alder replacing Jennifer France with twenty-four hours’ notice, quite a feat given the demands placed upon the soprano, especially the coloratura aspects, successfully encompassed and integrated by Alder in what are beautiful settings, seeming to pivot between Rosenkavalier and the Songs that would be Four and Last. Alder’s technically untroubled intimacy was affecting, with Elektra-like drama saved for the final number, ‘Lied der Frauen’. Throughout, the accompaniment was sensitive and detailed.