Trancendence timed to perfection, Geoffrey Norris reviews the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Barbican

Mariss Jansons


When the matchless Mariss Jansons took his umpteenth curtain call at the end of his second weekend programme with Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, members of the audience rose to their feet to acknowledge his transcendent tour de force of musicianship.

Doubtless they were also hoping for a third encore, but Jansons can always judge the precise psychological moment at which proceedings should be wrapped up. The pair of encores had rounded things off to perfection.

Both pieces were firm Jansons favourites - the intermezzo from Mascagni's "Cavalleria rusticana" and Johann Strauss's "Radetzky March" - and in their different ways served to highlight the Royal Concertgebouw's silkiness and richness of sonority (Mascagni) and its energy and brilliance (Strauss).

But, even in encores, Jansons never lets his concentration or his perception and sensibility relax. The magical way in which Mascagni's lyrical lines were floated by the strings was transfixing; the sheer exuberance and instrumental detail that emerged from the Strauss were extraordinary.

These two concerts covered a wide spectrum of music, with the Third Symphonies of Schubert and Bruckner in the first one, and a mix of Berlioz's overture "Le Carnaval romain", Debussy's "La Mer", Ravel's "La Valse" and Luciano Berio's "Folk Songs" in the second, with the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garança finding a terrific range of verbal and vocal colouring, from the raw emotion of "A la femminisca" and the sultry "Songs of the Auvergne"-like "Lo fiolaire" to the show-stopping sparkle of the "Azerbaijan Love Song".

Regular readers might know that concerts by Jansons put me in a quandary as a journalist, because they tend to render me speechless. So absorbing is his interpretative acumen, so riveting his command of structure, texture and idiom that I generally just want to go away and savour what I have heard and treasure the experience of somehow being lifted out of myself.

But it would be remiss not to remark on the way that Schubert's Third was so exhilarating in its fusion of wit and symphonic seriousness, nor Bruckner's in the control of expansive architecture, anticipation, resolve and perspective. The polka episode in the finale was quintessential Jansons, light and delicate but precisely placed within the work's grand design.

The second programme was from every point of view - whether in excellence of playing or sheer insight into the way the music asserts its character and allure - a pure joy. I am still in seventh heaven.