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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Why I’m Holding Back One Star For The Oslo Philharmonic

By Norman Lebrecht on November 27, 2020

Lebrecht_Listens_-_Vasily_Petrenko_

Prokofiev/Miaskovsky: Symphonies (LAWO Classics)

★★★★☆

🎧 Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon

What would you say if I gave up star ratings? They are only the vaguest approximation of a critic’s opinion, and they might well be affected by the weather, or the latest COVID numbers. I’ve seen ratings that barely reflect the text of a review, just as footballers get marks out of ten that bear no relation to their influence on a game. I know some readers look no further than the star rating before making up their minds. But for those who actually read, does the rating make any difference to you? Do tell.

Take the present pair of symphonies, the Prokofiev 5th and Miaskovsky 21st. The playing by the Oslo Philharmonic is outstandingly colourful and subtle, with shades of authentic Russian woodland evoked by the conductor Vasily Petrenko. I have heard the Berlin Philharmonic play the Prokofiev with marginally greater bite and beauty, which means I can’t give the Norwegians five full stars in good conscience. That’s where things get distorted. This is a fabulous performance, stars or no stars.

The sonorous Adagio of the Prokofiev 5th is wonderfully shaped, an awesome blend of fear and hope, and fear again. Premiered in Moscow in January 1945, the symphony was intended as a hymn to freedom just as Stalin was getting ready to crush artists once again. Prokofiev’s timing was always politically poor.

I wish we heard more of Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950). Myaskovsky keeps his symphonies short and his emotions restrained. The 21st symphony, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1940, takes us through four interlocked movements in just quarter of an hour. The writing, especially for winds, is exquisite and the atmosphere inviting. Petrenko conducts with fervour, tempered by restraint. The Oslo crew play with passion. They deserve five stars and I’m frustrated that I have to hold one back. It’s a rotten system.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, follow him on Slippedisc.com.

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Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.
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