A view from behind audience members' heads at the side of the stage as Vasily Petrenko conducts the Orchestra in the Royal Fsstival Hall
© Andy Paradise

In its Icons Rediscovered series, linking works by two late romantics – Sergei Rachmaninov and Edward Elgar – the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra showed its mettle. The orchestra’s game has been lifted to new levels by the arrival of Vasily Petrenko as music director. In Rachmaninov’s mighty Symphony No 2, the strings were precise and unanimous. Balance across every section of the orchestra was ideal. ★★★★ The Guardian

On Thursday 8 February the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed the latest concert in our Icons Rediscovered series in Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall with Music Director Vasily Petrenko, dedicated to the music of two icons of late Romanticism, Sir Edward Elgar and Sergei Rachmaninov.

Alongside Elgar's Cockaigne Overture and Rachmaninov's Second Symphony, Louise Alder sang Strauss' Brentano Lieder, stepping in for Jennifer France at short notice.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Maestro Yuri Temirkanov, who served as the RPO’s Principal Guest Conductor from 1979 and the Orchestra’s Principal Conductor from 1992–1998.

Read on to view more photos and reactions from the evening. You can listen back to the concert on BBC Sounds here.

All photos © Andy Paradise

The concert opened with Elgar's lively Cockaigne Overture, its name taken from the medieval image of the land of Cockaigne, a mythical land full of plenty and debauchery, which Elgar appropriated for his satirical but loving musical pastiche of late nineteenth-century London.

"The flourishing partnership between Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is vital in both senses of the word. Together they are making indispensable music in performances that are invariably alive, deeply considered and anything but routine." ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Bachtrack review

Closing the first half was Rchiard Strauss' Brentano Lieder, a song cycle composed in 1919 for soprano and piano and orchestrated by the composer much later. It is composed of five love songs and the final Lied der Frauen, which is sometimes excised from performances of the song cycle, demanding a more dramatic and full-bodied voice in its tempestuous articulation of grief and loss.

"With her profound musicality and attention to text as well as ideal phrasing, Alder never missed a trick, and stayed clear of the archness we hear from some Straussian greats." ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Arts Desk review

The concert's centrepiece was Rachmaninov's Symphony No.2. Completed 10 years after the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony, the work cemented Rachmaninov as a more-than-worthy successor to Tchaikovsky in its sheer emotional breadth. It near-single-handedly redefined the meaning of a symphonic Adagio in its third movement, and seamlessly weaves in his trademark Dies Irae motif in the second.

"it was a wonderful performance, all of a piece, the wide arcs of its structure perfectly controlled, its extraordinary melodic and harmonic generosity never rushed or impeded... perhaps the most impressive thing of all was Petrenko’s pinpoint accuracy in achieving the orchestral balances he wanted: absolute clarity, no mush." 

Seen and Heard International review

RPO 64

“The articulation Petrenko gets from his players is always impressive: scherzo and finale bounced and flew, with superlative horn playing, and the dash to the finishing post had half the audience on its feet. Roll on The Bells, Rachmaninov's "choral symphony", as well as Elgar's Second, in this unmissable "Icons Rediscovered" series. ” ★★★★

The Arts Desk review

RPO 78

He played the ensuing Adagio with a warmth and intensity that were unmistakably Russian – nothing lachrymose, just beauty and a passionate lyricism – while the fast-winged Finale invited a joyous outpouring by the RPO’s unison strings. It was a performance to savour and remember.

Bachtrack review


"Absolutely stunning. Looking forward to the next one! Well done to all!"

"It was a wonderful concert; thank you!"

"Fabulous concert. Thanks to all."

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