Bavarian State Orchestra / Petrenko review – Rattle's heir thrills with wild intensity

Barbican, London
Kirill Petrenko’s rapport with the awesome Bavarian players delivered a truly dazzling Mahler Seventh, and underlined why his move to Berlin is hotly anticipated

Coincidence? Surely not. In the very week that Sir Simon Rattle gave his farewell visiting concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic across London in the Royal Festival Hall, who should turn up at the rival Barbican Hall but Rattle’s heir and successor Kirill Petrenko, in company with the Bavarian State Orchestra, the awesome Munich opera house band with whom Petrenko has done so much to burnish his qualifications for the Berlin job.

Comparisons are invidious at this supremely exalted level of orchestral execution but they are also fascinating. Both orchestras play with an extra gear that is rarely heard in this country, let alone twice in the space of 48 hours. In Bruckner two days previously, the Berliners had once again astonished with the depth and texture of their sound. In Mahler’s Seventh symphony, it was the Bavarians’ unremitting virtuosic intensity that made its mark. This, though, seemed to emanate directly from the explosive energy and tight grip of Petrenko on what is often thought of as Mahler’s most diffuse and enigmatic symphony – as well as a long-time Rattle speciality. While some Mahler Sevenths wander scenically through the work’s constantly inventive sound world, Petrenko’s control and press-on approach were manifest from the clipped opening bars of the first movement, which was never permitted to meander into reverie.

the Bayerisches Staatsorchester.
Wholly coherent … the Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Photograph: Barbican

If the maelstrom of tone colour in that opening movement was a wild, accelerating ride, the Bavarians were equal to everything that Petrenko demanded. The two nocturnal movements were played with a soft transparency that was completely seductive on the ear. The spectral scherzo was dazzlingly done, and if the pulse of the dionysian finale was very fast it was never extravagant and always wholly coherent.

As the programme notes pointed out, this was an orchestra with which the nonpareil Carlos Kleiber worked more often than he did with most others (which is not to say he ever worked anywhere often). For long stretches of this thrilling evening there were echoes of Kleiber’s astounding momentum and quicksilver sense of detail in Petrenko’s work. There can be few higher compliments than that. Book now, if you still can, for Petrenko’s two Proms in September – this time with the Berliners.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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