Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Jansons – review

Barbican, London
Continuing his Bruckner series, Mariss Jansons conducted a high-quality performance of the Seventh Symphony, but it was the Ninth Symphony that impressed the most

Bruckner symphonies – respectively the Fourth, Seventh and the Ninth – have been the bedrock of the Amsterdam orchestra's enterprising Barbican residency under Mariss Jansons. The Concertgebouw play this music as well as any orchestra in the world, and Jansons is a master of balance and texture, so in the second and third concerts of the series there were times without number when the weight, sonority and tone felt exactly as the composer must have heard it in his head.

That said, the performance of the uncompleted Ninth was superior as a Brucknerian musical experience to the high-quality but rather unimaginative account of the Seventh the previous evening. The long, lonely musical lines of the Seventh need more room to breathe and blossom than Jansons, always keen to press on, allowed. It says something about the performance that the trio section of the third-movement scherzo, a meadow among the surrounding peaks, had more Brucknerian reflectiveness than the grander and more iconic passages.

Jansons did not linger in the Ninth, either, but either the ear had adjusted to his polished approach or he simply found more to say here. The darkness of the symphony's opening was magnificently played and the great effortfulness of the closing adagio rightly left all the big questions unresolved. Most original of all was Janson's deconstruction of the pounding motto theme of the scherzo, with the weighty emphasis of the brass rhythm carefully contrasted to powerful effect with the quicker stabbing staccato in the woodwinds and strings that follows.

In both concerts an early concerto by a Viennese master provided a bracing contrast to the Brucknerian unfoldings to come. Truls Mørk played Haydn's First Cello Concerto with terrific spirit, accompanied by just 29 Concertgebouw players, while Lars Vogt's clean articulation of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto was full of fire and wit. Both soloists offered encores, Bach and Chopin respectively, as now seems to have become standard concert hall practice rather than the rarity it once was.

Contributor

Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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