There is an urban legend about the influence of the unique acoustic conditions of the Concertgebouw over its resident orchestra. According to it, the building’s warm resonant acoustics has taught those musicians to produce rich yet lightweight sounds; otherwise, the results could be rather tangled and unclear. So I was told in Amsterdam.
I had seen the Concertgebouw orchestra previously in Rio in a completely uneventful R. Strauss’s Metamorphosen + Mahler 5th bill, when the orchestra sounded plainly speaking opaque and grey-toned. But then the dry acoustics of Rio’s Theatro Municipal could be responsible for the debacle. A couple of years later, I had the pleasure to witness a Ravel/Stravinsky programme with the famous Dutch orchestra in their own hall – and I was simply overwhelmed by its absolute clarity and beauty of tone. That was eight years ago.
Since then, I have sampled the Concertgebouw only through recordings – until today, when the fabulous orchestra more than fulfilled my expectations – it went far beyond. Under the admirable conductor Mariss Jansons, the orchestra shines at its best.
I have chosen a programme quite unusual for my traditional “German” concert preferences. Although Debussy’s La Mer and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique are hardly “unusual” repertoire, these are pieces I have seldom heard in live performances. Therefore, I cannot expertly compare today’s concert with any particular one, but I don’t really feel I need it.
In Jansons’s hands, the orchestra poured liquid crystalline sounds in Debussy’s score, every tiny detail played to its perfect effect. The violins’ pianissimo playing could make even the Vienna Philharmonic envy. However, even that kaleidoscopic Debussy could not prepare the audience to the flashing performance of Berlioz’s masterpiece. There the orchestra proved to have amazing consistence of tonal beauty through the complete dynamic range. Although Berlioz saw himself as a classical composer, scholars would rather label him as “proto-Romantic”. That dichotomy, however, was not a problem for Jansons, who took advantage of both full-toned Romantic orchestral sonorities and hallmark classical transparence with perfectly blended woodwind. The waltz rhythms in the second movement revealed Viennese grace, the third movement featured organic coherence between the bucolic and tempestuous elements, the fourth movement was a showcase of dynamic control and the fifth benefited from an extremely wide-ranging tonal palette. An unforgettable performance.