Acoustical Notes: A perfect venue for chamber music

ALMOST CERTAINLY the most beautiful concert hall in the world is the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. It is an elegant, gracefully contoured, but essentially "classical" hall, with a tiered stage for the orchestra and singers, and a U-shaped balcony embracing the auditorium, on which are reverently displayed the names of some of the illustrious classical composers such as Beethoven and Mahler whose music has often been heard there.

The acoustics are amazing. The orchestral double-basses are given a deep, velvety resonance, the cellos are so warm and rich that you feel you could reach out and fill your arms with their tonal opulence; the violins create a sheen of soft silk. A pleasing reverberation imparts a glow to the woodwind, and the trumpets are as brightly regal as the trombones are deeply sonorous.

The overall patina of sound suits admirably those 18th- and 19th-century composers whose names dominate the auditorium. But the more spiky dissonance of 20th-century music is less well served, for the focus becomes muddied, and the effect can be aurally tiring.

This does not happen in Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, the world's perfect hall, even finer than New York's illustrious Carnegie Hall. Its design is not dissimilar to the great Dutch venue, although its character is simpler, plainer, unpretentious. Yet in a sense this is belied by the huge organ which towers above the orchestra and dominates the rostrum. It can makes a massive impact, and its pedals can sound like thunder. Yet when the musicians of the Boston Symphony play a delicate, impressionistic 20th-century score by Debussy or Ravel, the violins and woodwind are projected with captivating delicacy and transparency of texture, as if the music were being painted on fine gauze.

London possesses three major halls for symphony concerts. The Royal Albert Hall, home of the Proms, is most suitable for large-scale events, preferably using a big choir as well as the orchestra. Thinking of the reverberation, Sir Thomas Beecham once quipped, "Every young composer should have his music first performed at the Albert Hall, and then he would be sure of an opportunity of hearing it at least twice!" But that famous pre-war echo effect has now been all but tamed by modern technology.

The post-war Royal Festival Hall has a notoriously dry acoustic, which can be unflattering to opulent 19th-century music. But smaller-scaled 18th-century pieces and conversely 20th-century music by Stravinsky, which needs plenty of bite, can be very effective there. London's newest hall, the Barbican, with its agreeable woody finishes, gives a gloriously full sound to most 19th- and 20th-century music, but the effect is not ideally transparent, especially for a bright, fresh earlier work like Vivaldi's Four Seasons, where one needs to hear the harpsichord come through - so basic a feature of baroque music.

London also has two splendid smaller halls: St John's Smith Square, whose acoustic warmth is ideal for a chamber orchestra and smaller instrumental and vocal groups; and - what is the jewel in London's crown - the Wigmore Hall, the most perfect chamber-music venue in the world. It has a wonderful mural, stretching up and over the proscenium arch, which is a joy to look at when listening to great music.

Whether you go to Wigmore to hear a solo piano (best from the back of the hall), a combination of violin or cello partnered by piano or harpsichord, a classical guitar recital or a string quartet, the sounds that reach the ear combine warmth and intimacy in perfect proportions. To hear Schubert's Octet there is a unique experience, as the eight players, woodwind, horn and strings, spread right across the stage, pass Schubert's lovely melodies back and forth between one another, to provide one of the supreme delights of concert-going.

Ivan March is one of the authors of the `Penguin Guide to Bargain Compact Discs' (Penguin, pounds 14.99)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil