Friday, June 05, 2020

Concertgebouw, Concertgebouwplein 10, 1071 LN Amsterdam, Netherlands

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Gustavo Gimeno’s pre-recorded Beethoven Seven, aired on Wednesday June 3 (and found on this site), was the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s first Dutch post-lockdown video stream – a configuration exercise demonstrating that with players maintaining a distance of 1.75m from one another, two metres for brass and woodwind, “it is actually quite possible to perform symphonic works scored for not too large an orchestra in such an arrangement and – at least for the moment – without an audience.”

The occasion didn’t particularly tell us anything we don’t already know from other recent European webcasts – namely, distanced players (masks at personal discretion), separate music stands, no public present, a half-concert format, and limited viewing figures. Some reports have suggested that quick string page-turns can be tricky or impossible (hence the two players per desk practice), but no disasters have come my way. An unexpected bonus in the Beethoven performance – lean, fiery, not  over-cooked – was the captured acoustic of the Hall, the microphones (in their customary position so far as one could see) delivering a more resonant, open image with marginally brighter upper partials – a soundworld familiar enough from recordings and empty-room rehearsals but attenuated with an audience present.

In charge of the Luxembourg Philharmonic, from next season of the Toronto Symphony, Gustavo Gimeno, formerly principal percussionist with the RCO, is a man who listens, bringing out the best in his players. There’s something about him reminiscent of Claudio Abbado (with whom he worked in Bologna and Lucerne), Muti also (without the haughtiness). Evident too in his makeup is the kind of pacing and attitude he’s absorbed from Jansons, Haitink and Iván Fischer – humanist musicians all, of particularised discernment and cultural aesthetic. No dictator, he’s a generous music-maker and communicator. He looks good, makes good, sounds good, to misquote the old slogan.

In this live-stream he crafted a glowing, richly translucent account of (the composer pictured) Dvořák’s G-major Eighth Symphony, tender, strong and lovingly shaped, the structure left to unfold, move on and hold back without artifice, phrases, climaxes and cadences sensually aware. Violins to the left, led by Vesko Eschkenazy (sweetly excelling in the Adagio), violas in the middle, cellos to the right, basses and heavy brass ranked high to the right, horns to the left. Hard to say if the spatial layout made any physical difference (listening to a polished broadcasting mix isn’t the same as being in the venue) – the players claim not, that it’s more a case of perception. What came across was bigness of sound with a decongestion and airiness between instruments I found informative and clarifying. Given the taped-and-measured layout in place, you obviously couldn’t mount a large-scale Mahler or Shostakovich Symphony – but, exceptions aside, anything from the classics to Brahms and Tchaikovsky, Sibelius even, ought to be possible.

The broadcast (in English) was introduced by the RCO’s solo bassist, RAM’s Dominic Seldis, as engaging a raconteur as you’d want to meet with the easy charm of a Barrie Kosky. The blazing trumpets heralding the Finale he likened to a call to dance, not war. And that’s what we got, along with page upon page of heady Slavonic song and dream. The fabled old Hall, silent too long, trembled once again to the music of its being – having first hosted it under Eduard van Beinum in 1941. A few permitted guests in the balcony, two little girls transfixed, lent applause. A splendid hour.