Compositions: Symphony No 6
Performers: Berlin Philharmonic/Kirill Petrenko
Catalogue Number: Berliner Philharmoniker BPHR190261
As statements of intent go, Kirill Petrenko’s debut recording with the Berlin Philharmonic as its new chief conductor announces itself with a thrilling blend of lyrical poetry, muscular swagger and brittle, biting, baleful emotions.
On succeeding Sir Simon Rattle in 2017, Petrenko chose Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony for his first appearances at the helm of the mighty German orchestra. Those performances mark the launch of Petrenko on the BPO’s own label and pairs one of the most recorded symphonies with a conductor whose appearances on disc can be numbered, regrettably, on the fingers of two hands.
A dark-hued masterpiece of ardent romance, aching poetry and melodies to melt the hardest heart, the Pathétique was Tchaikovsky’s last significant work. He conducted its premiere just nine days before his death in 1893 and claimed it was “the best thing I have composed”.
With one online site listing nearly 500 recordings of the work, Petrenko enters a saturated market to be considered first choice for this ravishing symphony. It’s clear from the off – in the slow awakening of the opening movement out of slumbering darkness into dancing light, fiery turbulence, relaxed gracefulness and soaring romance – that something special is in store.
It’s the palpable sense of confessional drama, public and private, permeating this lean, lithe and surprisingly light performance that compels. Petrenko and his Berlin forces acquit themselves with a spontaneous reciprocity that belies their brief relationship, seamlessly at one in the music’s emotional ebb and flow.
The liquescent Allegro con grazia carries itself with a waltz-like delicacy and deliberateness that points to the influences Petrenko imbibed while studying in St Petersburg, location of the symphony’s premiere. The movement’s startling pre-echoes of Korngold in his Hollywood pomp are inked in by exquisite detailing and beautifully modulated dynamics.
For sheer luxurious indulgence leavened by cut-crystal clarity, there’s no better account on disc of the tormented, keening Adagio lamentoso finale as it fades into the melancholy silence out of which the symphony emerged.
There is no coupling. None is needed. Released on Hybrid-SACD (with a lavish, hardback book) and as a high-resolution download, the vivid sound frames music-making of mercurial immediacy suggesting an exciting meeting of musical minds between the venerable Berlin orchestra and its new chief conductor. Clearly, there is much to look forward to from this already formidable partnership.