Sometimes an eagerly awaited performance starts out brilliantly, more or less how you thought it would, but then it kind of fizzles out towards the middle, only to return with a vengeance at the end. This was more or less the case with Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic this Thursday.

Vasily Petrenko © Mark McNulty
Vasily Petrenko
© Mark McNulty

Thursday’s concert was Vasily Petrenko’s first visit to Oslo in a little over a year, and his visit was highly anticipated. Not only was he recording both of Shostakovich’s cello concerti with Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk (although only the first was played at this concert), but next season he is set to take over as chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic.

And neither Petrenko nor Mørk disappointed with the Shostakovich. Mørk delivered a searing performance, with lyric, expressive phrasing and a phenomenal cadenza in the third movement. Even though the horn solos in the very beginning perhaps weren’t as polished as they should be, there was still some remarkable playing coming from the orchestra as well. Especially the strings showed a remarkable homogeneity which I’ve never heard from them before. Even in the softest of passages, and there were plenty of them, the strings kept the sound smooth and even.

After intermission, it was time for time for Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4. It would almost seem like the orchestra hadn’t quite recovered from the Shostakovich, because the opening of the first movement was somewhat shaky and it took quite some time before they hit their stride. Luckily, once they got going, there really was no stopping them. Petrenko proved just as at home in the Bruckner as he had been in the Shostakovich, navigating the twists and turns of a score that never quite seems able to make up its mind about where it wants to go.

Again the orchestra sounded thrilling, apart from the very beginning where things really weren’t as they should be. But in succeeding movements, the playing was extraordinary, especially in the second and fourth movements. Again, the soft playing of the strings was superb. The opening of the third movement (Scherzo) was also rather messy, although once that got under way, some lovely playing was heard yet again. The brass showed some muscle in the fourth movement finale (as they should), and drowned out the strings on several occasions (again, as they should). My only real quibble with the brass, apart from some iffy horn playing at times, was that during the brass chorales, of which there are quite a few, there was a tad too much tuba.

In the end, the concert was a success, particularly the Shostakovich concerto. The orchestra was on sparkling form, even though it took them a good few measures into the Bruckner to forget they’d just been playing Shostakovich. Petrenko seems to have done some very great things to the orchestra, and the general sound was simply incredible; it even managed to overcome the dire acoustics of the Oslo Concert House. It will be very exciting to see what Petrenko will bring to the orchestra in the years ahead.