Royal Concertgebouw / Jansons, Barbican, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

As current norms of concert planning go, this first of two programmes at the Barbican by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under its new chief conductor, Mariss Jansons, looked conventional enough: Stravinsky's Petrushka in its 1947 revision, followed the Symphony No 2 in D major of Brahms. In fact, it comprised a complementary balance of opposites, designed to show off the range of its performers' skills.

As current norms of concert planning go, this first of two programmes at the Barbican by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under its new chief conductor, Mariss Jansons, looked conventional enough: Stravinsky's Petrushka in its 1947 revision, followed the Symphony No 2 in D major of Brahms. In fact, it comprised a complementary balance of opposites, designed to show off the range of its performers' skills.

Where the Brahms unfolds an organic continuity of developing thematicism in warmly blended orchestral textures, the Stravinsky comprises a cross-cut collage of vernacular tune snippets, dance patterns and bright textural patches - almost defiantly anti-developmental in its structure. As Stravinsky himself would doubtless have insisted, while the Brahms allows for an expressive flexibility, his own score demands an exactitude of execution.

Maybe the Concertgebouw, with its integrated roundness of tone - those mellow horns with their slight vibrato, those distinctive oboes - lacks the last degree of edgy brilliance that the Stravinsky ideally needs; maybe Jansons failed to secure quite the right balance in Petrushka's furious outbursts in the second scene, or perfect unanimity on the score's crucial last pizzicato note. All the same, this was pretty good, with incisive, well-judged tempo changes and a marvellous physicality in later fairground episodes such as the Coachmen's Dance.

Few movements seem to accommodate a wider range of approaches than the golden opening Allegro non troppo of the Brahms. Jansons adopted a forward speed from the start, dropping the exposition repeat and pressing urgently, yet unhurriedly, onward, keeping the entire structure airborne in a single sweep.

Brahms barred much of his slow second movement oddly, forcing players to phrase across the beat to bring out the music's underlying disquiet. Here again, Jansons refused to linger, making much of those sinister moments when the trombones snarl.

His accounts of the two final movements were appropriately graceful and joyous respectively, but perhaps not so distinctive.

Comments