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Janine Jansen [Photo courtesy of Oslo Camerata]
08 Feb 2017

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Janine Jansen [Photo courtesy of Oslo Camerata]


Never has it touched me so deeply nor have I heard it resonate so fiercely in the Great Hall. Following the performance of the Berliner the night before, the luxurious transparency of the RCO made for a stunning contrast to the BPO’s thickened sound in Verdi’s Requiem.

Ahead of the tour to Shanghai, Beijing, and for the first time, Singapore, Gatti led in the programmes at home in Amsterdam. The first included the crowd pleasers Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and La Mer followed by Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Gatti combined the three works together for the first time in RCO’s history. I did not attend this performance, but instead opted for the second. These classical blockbusters the RCO might as well play in the dark, and are practically impossible for the orchestra to perform disappointingly.

In a change of seating, I situated myself on the fourth row a few seats inward so I had a close up vision of Mr. Gatti and Ms. Jansen elevated on stage. It was a fascinating position, albeit problematic to observe the entire orchestra, but that was not my purpose tonight. First Berg, then Bruckner, but let me start with the Bruckner’s Romantic.

Gatti hummed along as the horns awakened the morning in Bruckner Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major. Balding his fist, Mr Gatti turned out the celli, revving like a luxurious engine. Wind instruments resonated in lighthearted bird calls. He held his hand in front of his chest, as the violas tugged on your heartstrings. Gatti already had a go around with Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony earlier this season on tour, so perhaps it was the long interval between performance that made tonight’s performance feel fragmented.

The momentum that surged through the early Berg tapered off somewhere in the third movement of Bruckner, which then simmered without a forward propulsion. As a result the last movement lacked its burning potential. I had hoped for a more thunderous climax. A coughing spree took over the audience, which marked a break in the musical tension that lingered inspired by the synergy in Berg. Next season he will see his debut with Bruckner’s Ninth.

So his collaboration with Janine Jansen before the intermission made for the unforgettable experience. Berg’s work, To the memory of an Angel, is dedicated to Manon, Alma Mahler’s daughter with Walter Gropius. A muse for Berg, she died from Polio at eighteen. Like Wozzeck, the work thrives in live performance as space elucidates the layers and transparency. Berg’s work also grows on you the more you listen to it. Brilliant colours and mysterious sadness seduce deeply.

Gatti masterfully brought out sparkling details, while Jansen impelled Berg’s meandering twelve tone passages without ever losing intensity: poignant and shrill, but full of warmth. I have heard her Tchaikovsky, Bruch, and Mendelssohn, but in Berg tonight a new mature confidence emanated from her. Don’t get me wrong, she still has her youthful playfulness, but her commitment (from up close) radiated with an aged wisdom in her intent…a calibrated force of nature.

Almost a member of the orchestra, she has performed over forty times with them. Each concert is basically a sell-out. A powerful inspirator, the RCO flourishes when she solos. And it was interesting to observe how she consistently looked around and made eye contact with the concertmaster.

On the other hand, a strange dynamic unfolded as she sought contact with Gatti. They never seemed to have eye contact, it was felt in the music though. As she looked at him, he was busy bringing about Berg’s colour and life in the orchestra, but when he looked at her, well, he just glanced at her, knowing she was the star. As a supportive uncle, who doesn’t doubt nor dare interfere with niece’s talent.

His lack of flashy showmanship here made way made for significant more orchestral intensity, though never overshadowing her. Gatti created a rich tapestry, and kept the pianissimo moments ever so delicate and suspenseful. Those ruffling timpani! He had dazzled my ears before with Berg’s concerto with Leonidas Kavakos's refined approach, but with Janine’s intense ferocity and romantic subtlety, this rendition became the most memorable I have heard.

Gatti is a different from Haitink, Chailly, and Jansons.His theatricality stems from his inner child’s giddiness as he conducts with authentic curiosity and enthusiasm. He just started, but he is as was evident in Berg (and Mahler’s Second earlier this season), Gatti is already capable of rousing the RCO’s spirit like his forefathers did. Sometimes he almost stares incredulously in response at the orchestra’s beauty. In time he will realise, he’s the one pulling the strings!

David Pinedo

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