Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti at Barbican Hall (2) – Wagner, Mahler, Berg

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act I*
Götterdämmerung – Dawn & Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Death & Funeral March
Symphony No.10 in F-sharp – I: Adagio
Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra [*with musicians from the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain]
Daniele Gatti

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 17 December, 2016
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Daniele Gatti conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Barbican CentrePhotograph: Mark Allan/BarbicanA proper beginning to a concert, the Prelude to Wagner’s Mastersingers, launched this second Barbican gig by the Concertgebouw Orchestra and new Chief Conductor Daniele Gatti, joined in this opening number by thirty-six members of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, in a proudly ceremonial account that was also elegantly expressive and heartfelt. Members of the RCO stepped aside to accommodate the NYO affiliates, literally “Side by Side” and to impressive effect, and Gatti’s broadening of pace during the final ceremonial was persuasive.

The RCO now re-formed as itself and at all full strength (founded on ten double basses), it was from Nuremberg to Götterdämmerung selections, opening with exquisite cellos and an intense dawning of a new day to preface Siegfried voyaging down the Rhine, here at full sail, the subsequent offstage horn solo in good perspective and played with dexterity. Gatti went straight into a dramatic change – pure music-drama – summoning the demise of Siegfried and his memorial music, the latter cued by an especially lamenting oboe and then ratcheted-up by baleful Wagner tubas (yes, the composer’s design) and a sense of posthumous glory. Typically, for all the size of the RCO and its potential power, Gatti kept things detailed and well-balanced, and it was no-less thrilling for being so.

Daniele Gatti conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Barbican CentrePhotograph: Mark Allan/BarbicanI assume that Gatti doesn’t do Mahler 10 complete (the five-movement Symphony made performable by others, most notably Deryck Cooke), so the opening Adagio (more or less Mahler’s own work) was sufficient and indeed proved to be profoundly moving. Even the greatest orchestras have their fallible moments; here the violas (all fifteen of them, sitting outside-right) were slightly shaky at the outset, as were violins at a few instances, but it was interesting how quickly Gatti was there to ‘help’ (I should emphasise that these were micro-moments) and also to adjust so alertly dynamics and balances to the smallest particular. The rendition itself – spacious, elegiac, acerbic – was a reminder that this was Mahler’s last will and testament, and given with a clarity that emphasised the relatively sparse scoring (no percussion, for example, not even timpani). The multi-layered, anguished climax was led towards with certainty and the aftermath was both a farewell and a ‘what next?’. Of course, Mahler would have wished to finish his Tenth.

As for Alban Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, what a magnum masterpiece, a score of astonishing complexity that also speaks so directly to the listener; and what music-making this was, the RCO playing fabulously and heroically – Berg’s technical demands are a minefield. Completed in 1915 and revised in 1929 before publication, Berg comes directly from Mahler and begins with shadowy percussion to launch music that conjures so many responses – with so much to absorb in a relative short time (twenty minutes), powerful, enigmatic and opulent. A ‘Prelude’ and ‘Round Dance’ lead to a nightmarish, war-scarred ‘March’ that is a descendent of the Mahler 6 Finale, hammer-blows and all. Gatti, continuing to conduct from memory, ensured a lucid and compelling performance of the whole work, the ‘March’ itself with nostrils flaring and with the capability to lift one out of one’s seat, until the first hammer-blow, here catastrophic and chilling, if not as devastating as the ultimate one that not only stops the music but seems to stop the World. Great performance! No encore was offered to complete this matinee and none was needed; Berg’s extraordinary and haunting music had the last word.

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