RCO/Jansons | Classical review

Barbican, London

Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra have signed up to become one of the Barbican's International Associates, committed, with four other major ensembles, to London residencies over future seasons. In the first of their current pair of concerts, they chose, significantly perhaps, to give us something different, in the form of music by Brahms, Smetana and Martinu. None of it, it should be said, was unfamiliar repertoire. But all three composers haven't featured prominently in the Concertgebouw's previous UK appearances, nor do we associate them with their chief conductor Mariss Jansons.

Brahms was represented by the Fourth Symphony, a performance prefaced by a flurry of anticipation as to its qualities. Some Brahmsians, I suspect, might not have cared for it, great though some of it was. The playing was sublime, but the smoothness of the Concertgebouw sound precluded any sort of interpretation that could be described in terms of leanness or steeliness. Instead, we were conscious of something beautiful and innately organic, much of which unfolded with a measured, natural flow.

The scherzo was a bit unyielding, but Jansons touched the limits of elation and tragedy in the outer movements, and was probably at his best in the andante, which hovered in ambivalent territory between grief and consolation.

The first half aroused mixed feelings. Smetana's Bartered Bride Overture was a charmless exercise in speed. Martinu's Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani, however, with its prophecies of the second world war, was harrowingly immediate. Ellen Corver was the pianist, trying to restore order between the feuding bodies of strings. Noble and dignified in the central Largo, Jansons maintained a feverish momentum elsewhere.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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