Petrenko makes energetic return to Baltimore Symphony podium
Something about the young Russian's totally in-charge demeanor and personality-filled music-making provided good reason to believe that he was more than the latest bright new thing in classical music. (He's principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.)
Petrenko's looks do give him an immediate marketing advantage, but it's hard to hold onto a podium for very long with photogenic attributes alone. He's the real deal where it counts. His technique is sure, his instincts sound.
If there was a bit of a let-down about Petrenko's return to Baltimore this weekend, the program was perhaps the main drawback. Shostakovich's stunning Symphony No. 8 gave the conductor opportunities for showing off his skills two years ago in a way that the rather diffuse Symphony No. 3 by Rachmaninoff could not this time around.
On Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, Petrenko ...
The rest of the concert clicked very well. Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 moved engagingly along, benefiting as much from the muscular, yet sensitive, solo work of Barry Douglas as from the way Petrenko highlighted the vivid orchestral details.
The real gem of the evening, though, turned out to be a grand old chestnut: Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnole." It hasn't been played on a BSO subscription program since 1997, which may be partly why the musicians seemed so freshly energized by the music. But Petrenko's conducting had a huge role here. He masterfully unleashed the sensual quality of the score, shaping phrases with compelling personality and adding extra spark to the rhythmic vitality.
The result was one of the most deliciously virtuosic, infectiously high-spirited performances the BSO has given in years. The tight bond between Petrenko and the players could not have been clearer than in the breathless coda, which had an arresting, incendiary impact.
The final performance of the program is Sunday afternoon.