Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam /Jansons - Barbican, 12 and 13 December 2009
Last weekend's flying Concertgebouw visit packed in two concerts in less than 24 hours. The better of the pair was Sunday afternoon's Mahler 2.
Mariss Jansons had me gripped right from the hovering, shimmering strings of the first bar. There's something magical, almost mystical about the way he balances architecture against details, form against texture, head against heart. I never felt any aspect of the music was being sacrificed in pursuit of insights elsewhere. His path was secure, unerring, and in a work that tempts theatrics from even the best, ultimately truthful. His music is the sort that doesn't need to shout to be heard. Quite overwhelming.
Saturday night's concert was more fragmented and ultimately less satisfying. The glowing strings, warm brass and sonorous woodwinds of the Concertgebouw are pretty much a given, so no complaints on that score. But where Jansons's restraint in the Mahler was revelatory, in Saturday's Brahms 4 it seemed more like a brake. There was an abundance of elegant craft, but I found myself longing for the do-or-die passion of Rattle, Barenboim (on a good day) or even Daniel Harding.
Smetana's Bartered Bride overture was energetic but inherently throwaway, and Martinu's Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani I simply don't care for, never have, sorry. In some ways, the encores, a Dvorak Slavonic Dance and Brahms Hungarian Dance were the most effective elements of the evening.
Perhaps my diminished enthusiasm has something to do with the seating though. I was, unusually, sitting in the balcony, where the view is perfect and the sound exquisitely blended. But the famously dry acoustic of the Barbican is a thousand times more apparent here than downstairs. The seats are fairly priced (a positive bargain in fact) to take account of tthe problem, but it's an economy I shan't make again in a hurry.
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