Review of Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Birmingham Symphony Hall *****
Self-styled "great" orchestras have side, attitude and swagger in their approach to music (too many names, no pack-drill). Not so the Oslo Philharmonic, who bring freshness, enthusiasm and indeed humility to the score in their performances.
Visiting Birmingham as part of their centenary tour, the players obviously relished the opportunity to perform in one of the world's genuinely great concert-halls, and projected a sound which was at once warm and alive, woodwind soloists eloquently phrasing, brass noble from top to toe, and strings both velvety and fizzingly articulate.
Under the articulate baton of Vasily Petrenko (how can he bear to be leaving them soon as chief conductor?) they gave a joyously appreciative audience a persuasively-delivered Nordic programme, beginning with Delius' Scandinavian-tinged Walk to the Paradise Garden from his opera A Village Romeo and Juliet.
There are also Wagnerian influences here, subtly implied by Petrenko, and together these performers gave us the equivalent of a Tristan Liebestod.
Grieg's Piano Concerto brought the freshness of Norwegian mountain air and meadows, soloist Nikolai Lugansky both crisp in articulation with pearly fingerwork and cosily cushioning in his judiciously-pedalled chording. This was a blessedly natural account of what is actually a little masterpiece, and one in which Lugansky's virtuosity (probably surpassing that which Grieg himself would have been able to employ) was totally at the service of the music.
Petrenko's reading of Sibelius' lung-opening Fifth Symphony ranks very highly among those I've heard over so many years. The structure was firmly grasped so that transitions and climaxes were achieved with inevitability, instrumental textures were shrewdly coaxed (the buzzing violas at the start of the finale will remain unforgettable in my memory), and the journey's end of the eventual cutting-edge coda was both affirmative and emotional.