Berlin’s new chief is a record virgin

Berlin’s new chief is a record virgin


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2015

Search for audio recordings by Kirill Petrenko and you will be swiftly disappointed.

The incoming chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic is a stranger to record studios. He has appeared on DVD in a number of filmed operas, notably at Bayreuth and Bayerische Rundfunk, but you can count the audio recordings he has made on the fingers of one hand.

There is a 2012 Pfitzner Palestrina on the Oehms label, a lovely performance of Suk’s Asrael on CPO, a second Suk performance also on CPO and an LPO Rachmaninov concerto on Channel Cassics.

suk asrael


Petrenko is, put simply, a post-recording conductor.

That presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the Berlin Philharmonic. Anything they release of him on their own label will be a unique product, a truly virgin recording. With careful planning, they could be onto a winner.




  • Jon says:

    Plus a couple of concerts in the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall.

    Still, too little and too niche…

    I hope they make recordings for one of the major labels that publish their recordings in general streaming services.

    Any chances the BP will work with the yellow label again?

    • Olassus says:

      Beethooven, Elgar, Stravinsky, Scriabin –> not “niche”

      • Olassus says:

        Okay, Beethooven might be!

        • Jon says:

          @Olassus: by niche I didn’t mean the repertoire: I meant the channels.

          Recordings that are difficult to find (e.g. the CPO and Channel Classics ones aren’t available in streaming services) or that are accessible only in very specific places (the BP Digital Concert Hall).

          His presence in other channels is practically irrelevant: e.g. very few and very short clips in YouTube, compared to the availability of live concert recordings from many other conductors.

          No objections to his repertoire or even if he objects to making studio recordings. But it would be nice if we can listen to more of his conducting (as someone said, without buying tickets to Munich or Berlin).

  • Peter says:

    Careful planning.
    Quality over quantity.
    Audiophile best possible quality.
    Creating the long overdue new paradigm for top quality music recordings, while that market drowns in hastily underproduced fast food, that satisfies only shareholder interest in the quarterly report but not music lovers.

  • Halldor says:

    …and yet, apparently, everyone who isn’t already hugely familiar with his work and hasn’t so far perceived his greatness is a blinkered, parochial denizen of the celebrity-obsessed English-speaking world, apparently.


    We can’t all afford weekly opera-breaks in Munich.

    • Simon S. says:

      Err, no. As long as you concede the possibility that someone may be a great conductor even if there are almost no recordings, he rarely performs outside Germany and never appears in the yellow press, you are certainly no “blinkered, parocial…” etc. (your words).

      It’s not a problem if someone says “never heard about him, sorry”. But it is a problem if someone draws the conclusion “never heard about him, must be second class”.

      And I am very sure there are many great conductors I have never heard about out there, in the English-speaking world and elswhere.

  • Michael Endres says:

    “There is a 2012 Pfitzner Palestrina on the Oehms label ….None is presently available.”

    A quick check on the Oehms label : the Pfitzner is available !

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    I think from the purely recording angle Thielemann would have been a better choice. Still, Petrenko doesn’t come with any baggage…

  • Novagerio says:

    The record industry, normally any historic orchestras main income guarantee went down the drain already around the time of the appointment of Simon Rattle back in 2002. That’s why candidates back then like Maazel, Barenboim and Haitink were turned down.

    This is a historic moment. Back to Live music and streamed concerts!!

  • J. says:

    Few recordings = virgin?

    So if someone makes love three or four times it’s still a virgin?

  • tristan says:

    forget all recordings and ‘tausendsassas’ like Barenboim etc who cannot get enough work but mostly with mediocre results.This is one of the most exciting and fascinating conductors who will remove any doubts as the only right decision – music making on the highest level, well rehearsed (unlike another tausendsassa Gergiev) full of excitement and tension similar like the greatest of all: Carlos Kleiber
    He knew it all but only conducted a small repertoire, so what? It was always fantastic even ecstatic – listen to Scriabin with Petrenko and Berliner! That sounds similar!
    I prefer those real Maestri (Celibidache another one) to those who try everything and fail completely, just think of Barenboim with Mozar’s Giovanni in a great production of Carsen at La Scala or same piece in Salzburg also in a superb production of Chereau.
    Petrenko is a sublime choice and to be honest, the only right one!

  • Tom Gossard says:

    He’s Russian (I assume) so he can’t be all bad! 😉

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Norman, you are correct: I went to Amazon yesterday and found only few recordings conducted by Kirill Petrenko, the CPO ones made during his years as GMD at the Komische Oper.

    I only hope Bavarian Radio has recorded performances at the Munich Nationaltheater. I assume this year’s Bayreuth RING will also be broadcast (and hopefully recorded) – perhaps, on one happy day, we may witness the release of a Petrenko Bayreuth Ring… Who knows, now that he is the Heir Elect in Berlin, many live recordings may now happen in Munich and elsewhere. And, of course, being a recording virgin, there is a wide field open to explore with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

    Recently, while listening to Deutschlandfunk online, I heard the following: when Nikolaus Bachler, Intendant of the Bavarian State Opera is asked: “where is Petrenko?, his reply is: “In a score.”

    That is what matters. Happy ears, everyone, whether live or via any kind of medium.