This was most definitely a concert of two halves the first failed to engage, whilst the second delivered as blistering account of Shostakovichs Symphony No. 11 in G Minor The Year 1905 as Ive heard in the concert hall, and rightly drew an ecstatic response from the audience.
This concert marked conductor Vasily Petrenkos debut with the LPO and to say that he is hot property in conducting circles at the moment is something of an understatement. He has forged a very special relationship with his own orchestra, the RLPO, and for some commentators this partnership is proving to be as exciting as that of Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO in the 80s and 90s. The first work on the programme, Stravinskys Scherzo fantastique was superficially exciting in places but the playing of the LPO seemed strangely muted.
Prokofievs Piano Concerto No. 3 in C followed, and this marked another debut namely Russian pianist Oleg Marshev who was appearing in the UK for the first time. Fiendishly difficult to play, Marshev seemed to have the measure of the work in the first two movements, but something went horribly awry in the last movement when he lost his way. Indeed it was a miracle that Petrenko managed to stop the whole performance from derailing in the last ten minutes. The audiences response was tepid but this didnt stop Marshev from delivering an encore the tenth of Liszts Transcendental Etudes, and this was certainly played with plenty of fire and technical wizardry.
After the interval, however, both conductor and orchestra seemed transformed, as they gave a shattering performance of Shostakovichs 11th Symphony. Often maligned and unfairly dubbed film music without a film, the eleventh is starting to be appreciated as one of the Russian composers finest achievements, dealing as it does with the failed uprising in 1905 and the subsequent brutal clampdown by the authorities. From the eerie, icy evocation of the mood before the uprising which begins the symphony right through to the violent clenched-fist of the ending, Petrenkos grasp of the architecture of the work never faltered.
While there was plenty of bombast and ear-splitting climaxes, reinforced by a battery of percussionists, he nevertheless managed to dig deep and reveal the melancholy and despair that underpins the more exuberant outbursts. He was rewarded with razor-sharp playing from all sections of the orchestra and there was plenty of outstanding solo work as well, most notably Sue Bohlings plaintive cor anglais solo in the final movement. This performance managed to banish memories of the disappointing first half and one only hopes that Petrenko will return as his debut with the LPO in the end proved to be one of the most exciting this year.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk