Vasily Petrenko and Denis Kozhukhin standing on stage to receive applause with the Orchestra behind them.
© Frances Marshall

On Wednesday 27 March the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brought the latest instalment of our Icons Rediscovered series to Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall with Music Director Vasily Petrenko, juxtaposing the music of two late-Romantic icons, Edward Elgar with Sergei Rachmaninov; the Russian's Piano Concerto's No.3 preceding the former's Symphony No.2.

We are grateful to Denis Kozhukhin for stepping in at short notice to perform the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 after the original soloist Yunchan Lim unfortunately had to withdraw owing to a hand injury.

Read on to view more photos and reactions from the evening.

All photos © Frances Marshall


The concert opened with Ethel Smyth's overture to her opera, The Wreckers, written  in 1906 with the librettist and Smyth's long-time partner and collaborator Henry Brewster, which tells of a remote and tight-knit Cornish town that lures ships to the rocks and scavenges from their wrecks.

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The Wreckers Overture featured organist Katherine Dienes-Williams

Before Rachmaninov would be in exile from his homeland after 1917, eventually settling in the USA, he toured there in 1909 with his newly-written Piano Concerto No.3, which he would perform under the baton of Gustav Mahler in Carnegie Hall shortly after its first performance in New York. Though the Concerto was not rapturously received at first, as was the case with his Second, audiences and critics learned to appreciate its depth and melodic complexity.

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"[Denis'] playing was marked by great restraint, evident in the plaintive simplicity with which the opening theme was voiced. The first movement cadenza was built carefully and with controlled power, carried by crystalline clarity rather than whirling cascades of sound."
Bachtrack ⭐⭐⭐⭐

For the encore Denis performed Tchaikovsky's In Church from his Album for the Young.

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After the interval was Elgar's Symphony No.2. Like Rachmaninov, his previous work in the form had set high expectations, and the instant recognition and adoration that his First Symphony won him was not replicated for the premiere of the Second in 1911. Like Rachmaninov, it eventually garnered the respect it deserved with its emotional maturity and introspection that deviated from the pomp-and-circumstance often associated with Elgar. Dedication to the late King Edward VII, Elgar described it as 'the passionate pilgrimage of a soul', with a trip to St Mark's Basilica in Venice inspiring the opening of the majestic and mournful second movement.

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"Petrenko has made Elgar his own: this was a riveting performance, full of depths and subtleties, with fabulous, unerring pacing and malleable transitions from one state of being to another – these happen frequently in the work – that always brought deepening revelations into the work’s philosophical condition. The orchestra palpably gave its all."
The i ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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"To hear the RPO strings playing with such hushed poise, and not only in the tribute Elgar paints in the Larghetto to a recently departed sovereign, was an unalloyed delight. Heart-stoppingly still and beautiful moments where whispering violins are answered by an ache from the violas – this is what gives this work a singular depth."
Bachtrack ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you for joining us in our Icons Rediscovered series. The next concert will be Rachmaninov's The Bells in the same venue on Thursday 11 April, with Sheku Kanneh-Mason performing Weinberg's Cello Concerto.


And superb it was. Elgar's masterpiece is hard to bring off, but we always knew where we were going. Never heard the 3rd movement played so fast and the slow movement was heart-rending. Great that Smyth is back. And then Rach 3rd pfc from Kozhukhin. Even he was on his feet! https://t.co/vViyIwAGXL

— John Greening (@GreeningPoet) March 27, 2024

Icons Rediscovered 

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