Still a boyish 41, Vasily Petrenko makes a return to the Gramophone Classical Music Awards this year having been our Young Artist of the Year back in 2007 (a year when, unusually, our Artist of the Year, Hilary Hahn, was younger!). His work with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the ensemble he has led first as Principal Conductor and then as Chief Conductor since 2006, continues to impress, and no more so than in the set of Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies Nos 3, 4 and 6, released by Onyx earlier this year, and which was received with universal acclaim, clinching Gramophone’s Recording of the Month in March. Mark Pullinger remarked that ‘Petrenko’s fast and furious approach once again pays off with invigorating performances which dispel Russian gloom. The RLPO play their socks off and must rank as one of the finest “Russian orchestras” in the UK today.’ For a St Petersburg-trained conductor, it must have been with some satisfaction that MP drew comparisons (in the Fourth Symphony) with Yevgeny Mravinsky. The Pathétique, a crowning performance here in every respect, is characterised by vivid dynamics and a wonderful control of intensity.
If Petrenko drew on his Russian roots in the Tchaikovsky, he drew on the orchestra’s in another of this year’s recording projects (and another Onyx release): a disc of Edward Elgar’s Second Symphony and some shorter works. Jeremy Dibble (who reviewed the companion recording of the First Symphony two years ago) wrote that ‘I am even more impressed by the Russian’s reading of the Second Symphony, which has a clarity of sound to match the luxuriance of Elgar’s orchestration. Indeed, the RLPO, on great form, provide a sumptuous array of textures with an ensemble that is crisp and incisive. It is so good to hear every note of the athletic brass counterpoint in the horns and trumpets and the lithe filigree of Elgar’s careful doublings between wind and strings … Petrenko is, for the most part, spot-on with his tempos.’
Since the start of the 2013/14 season, Petrenko has been Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic (one of those ensembles that seems to launch meteoric careers – just look at Mariss Jansons, with whom Petrenko studied). They’ve already set down an impressive little discography and this last year saw a version of Prokofiev’s complete Romeo and Juliet ballet. While not totally sold on Petrenko’s approach, David Gutman noted (12/16) that ‘In place of Soviet-style weight, Petrenko wields a new broom … Sections within numbers are refreshed unpredictably, sometimes slowed, more often swift, voicings tweaked to expose long-buried lines or surprising points of colour’. And one shouldn’t forget his charismatic work with the European Union Youth Orchestra, whose Chief Conductor he also is. His ability to connect with young musicians is impresive and the results speak for themselves.
Gramophone ’s Artist of the Year is voted for by the public – readers of Gramophone and visitors to our various social media outlets. Vasily Petrenko is making waves, and we’re happy to endorse this impressive lead, from over 8000 votes cast, for an artist who has clearly made the step up to a new level of musicianship and has the ability to take audiences with him on his musical journey. James Jolly