Royal Concertgebouw – 2

Concerto for Orchestra
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 2 September, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

In their second appearance at the Proms this season, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and its Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons impressed with a vibrant reading of Lutoslawski’s most popular orchestral work and an essentially classical reading of Brahms’s First Symphony.

Following a run-in with the Communist regime for being too ‘formalist’, Lutoslawski looked to recreate his musical language. Part of this process involved turning to Polish folk music, the culmination being the Concerto for Orchestra, which, first performed in 1954, was an immediate and lasting success. From the initial striding tempo, the energy-packed opening bars – tolling timpani beats and an impressive fugato for the strings – indicated that Jansons has a determined conception of how he wants this work to proceed: there was no sign of the momentum lagging, and numerous felicities, not least unanimous pizzicatos and ‘brassy’ brass made this a performance worthy of acclaim.

Brahms’s C minor Symphony was not an easy creation for him. During its 21-year gestation, Brahms set himself impossibly high standards and was under the shadow of Beethoven, to Brahms’s mind the greatest symphonist of all.

Perhaps the RCO was similarly awe-struck; the symphony’s opening was uncertain, and Jansons seemed unsure as to whether he was conducting a Classical or Romantic performance. Eventually, he opted for the former – a good choice. The oboe solos of Alexei Ogrintchonk in the second movement were especially fine. The attacca into the finale was judiciously timed and deterred less thoughtful members of the audience from applauding. If the symphony’s opening had been lacklustre then its major-key conclusion was a veritable triumph.

The RCO’s ensemble was near-perfect and although the brass was placed a tier above the woodwinds and two above the strings the balance was one of blending rather than obscuring: let other orchestras take note.

Encores were a Hungarian Dance by Brahms and the ‘Farandole’ from Bizet’s music for “L’Arlésienne”.

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