Concertgebouw Jansons – 1

Stravinsky
Petrushka [1947 version]
Brahms
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 June, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The concerns being voiced about the play-safe repertoire that London and visiting orchestras trot out with alarming regularity was acutely apparent in this the first of two appearances by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the newly instated Mariss Jansons. This Stravinsky and Brahms coupling was the very same one that Jansons brought to the Barbican a few years ago with the Pittsburgh Symphony!

Still, Petrushka was memorably done here with vivid details and exemplary balance, the RCO in stellar form. Occasionally Jansons would exaggerate something to distracting effect yet if his (nearly) infallible sense of tempo, usually deliberate enough to satisfy clear articulation and instrumental clarity, sometimes didn’t allow enough time – the trumpet solo in Tableau 3 was, as usual, too fast (even this player was taxed to deliver all the notes) – then such episodes stuck out simply because so much was ideally judged. From the opening bars, pristinely delivered, there was a sense of occasion and theatre that compelled attention, which when allied to such a sure musical realisation produced something rather special – a 1947 Petrushka that didn’t seem watered-down (as Stravinsky’s reduced orchestration can) and was nearer to the burlesque and grotesquerie of the 1911 original, the Concertgebouw Orchestra responding to Jansons’s ‘Russian’ understanding of the music in both tangy sounds and dug-in underlining.

The Brahms, however, was disappointing. Beautifully played, yes, and conducted overall with onward sweep by Jansons, the first movement was clearly structured, although, in context, he made too much of a meal of the coda. But well before this a lack of variegation in the sound was disturbingly apparent; the intensity became overbearing, which possibly more dynamic changes might have alleviated. Thankfully the exposition repeat was passed over. The Adagio was then cut from very similar cloth; there was no relief and there needed to be. Even the intermezzo-like third movement couldn’t escape such throbbing, and the finale was driven on with no release or joy. No doubting the RCO’s commitment and character, but the music needed to be let-off the emotional hook at times and shown to be of greater range.

Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.1 was the first encore – it’s been done to death and Jansons’s way with it was so calculated. A Dvořák Slavonic Dance (Op.72/7) ended the evening – with rather more spontaneity.

  • Second RCO concert on 13 June at 3.30 – Debussy and Sibelius
  • Barbican

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