Oslo Phil/Petrenko review – glorious Grieg in centenary celebrations

Barbican, London
Vasily Petrenko led a sometimes fierce survey of Grieg, Shostakovich and Strauss, with a closing flourish that sent shivers down the spine

To mark its centenary, the Oslo Philharmonic have been on a European tour with Vasily Petrenko, finishing at the Barbican with a programme that, inevitably perhaps, reflected on the orchestra’s own history. Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, which was given at their very first concert in 1919, formed the centrepiece, flanked by Strauss’s Don Juan, central to the orchestra’s early repertory, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10, of which Petrenko, chief conductor since 2013, is a most distinguished interpreter.

The Grieg was glorious. Leif Ove Andsnes was the soloist in a performance that got shot of the accretions of sentimentality that have clung to the work, allowing us to hear it as if new minted. Andsnes’s sweeping treatment of the famous opening phrases ushered in an interpretation at once unusually grand in scale and absolutely direct in expression. The first movement bristled with dramatic tension. The adagio was poised, beautiful and coolly reflective; the finale superbly articulated and tremendous in its weight and sheer elan.

Shostakovich’s Tenth was equally remarkable. Petrenko probed the work’s ambiguities with formidable intelligence, without losing sight of its complex emotions. Exacting dynamic control resulted in an unnerving account of the opening movement with its eerie oscillations between whispers and screams, and the ranting brutality of the scherzo seemed to echo through the rest of the work, until the fiercely defiant finale swept its terrors away.

Strauss’s wonderful examination of pleasure and sexual excess, however, wasn’t in quite the same league. You couldn’t fault the playing, which heaved with elation and assertiveness; though the brass were too prominent at the start, the horns were terrific as they pealed out the great theme that dominates the work’s second half. But energy wasn’t always ideally balanced by sensuality, and the oboe melody of the central love scene, though ravishingly played, was fractionally too chaste for the episode to have its full effect. However, the closing pages, in which desire suddenly collapses into satiety and thoughts of mortality, sent real shivers down your spine.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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