Recorded at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam between 12 May 2017 and 20 June 2021

This classy collection of contemporary music (the tenth of the RCO’s Horizon series) embraces fourteen works and gets off to a great start with Weites Land (Musik mit Brahms) by Detlev Glanert, a descriptive and rhythmically stalking piece, opening in a manner that is similar to Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, and which holds the attention in terms of emotional expression and dramatic incident, developed with purpose and intensity as well as soaring skywards. Semyon Bychkov, a Glanert champion, conducts.

Softly Bouncing by Martijn Padding finds Jaap van Zweden in charge; it’s an attractively quirky piece in both invention and scoring (including an accordion); quietly spoken, too, and dreamy-surreal with suggestions of nightmare. Caveat: rather too long (fifteen minutes); my interest waned two-thirds through but picked-up just towards the end and not because I knew it was the final lap.

There are two works by Christiaan Richter: the atmosphere and effects (the latter occasionally reminding of 1960s’ Penderecki) of Wendingen, which also packs a sonic punch, and which George Benjamin conducts; and 2270 (Beethoven’s five-hundredth anniversary), led by Gustavo Gimeno, and which is related to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (I’d never have guessed). 2270 carries a similar stamp to Wendingen, if too closely at times, but it’s the one I would choose of the two if required.

Benjamin also conducts Sol by Blai Soler, an eighteen-minute study rooted on the note G (sol) and, potentially, music of description, if interrupted, within a seemingly free design, yet an all-important second listen proved decisive: this is an impressive piece of logical progression, with unrestricted orchestration at times, yet so subtle in the nocturnal flickering of the final minutes before being disrupted by a thrilling tsunami of challengingly loud, long-held brass chords, presumably G-centred, although they could just as well be the fierce, enveloping, heat of another sol, the sun: what a sense of theatre (and I thought of the late Christopher Rouse).

Disc Two opens with Ariadne by Theo Verbey (deceased 2019) conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali, beguiling music, sweetly expressive, faster sections lucidly delineated, superbly and cinematically orchestrated – Respighi meets John Williams – pictures painted by music drenched in screenplay and including as romantic a violin solo as could be wished for.

There follows mais le corps taché d’ombres (but the body stained with shadows) by Rick van Veldhuisen, which Fabio Luisi conducts, music of eerie and heightened suspense, with juicy harmonies surrounded by ghostly eddies of sound. Terrific piece, so too, and equally suspenseful, is Bram Kortekaas’s Notenkrakers’ notulen (notenkraker=nutcracker=note breakers) which reports an incident at a Haitink-conducted concert on November 17, 1969, when a group of Dutch composers, led by Louis Andriessen and Reinbert de Leeuw, interrupted the evening to call for more new Dutch music to be played. Kortekaas tells the story vividly and features a soprano, Katharine Dain, who has some Lulu-like stratospheric writing to negotiate, which she does fearlessly, and elsewhere luminously. Antony Hermus conducts, as he does Reflections by Celia Swart, bright, shiny … and to my mind not much else, with a solo spot for an electric harp (Remy van Kesteren). The mellow timbres of string quartet and double bass inform Leaves in Autumn by Nick Woud, played admirably by RCO members, a sad song of farewell, yet (purely personal) not really testing my deepest feelings, dry-eyed throughout; stylistically, some sections of Leaves in Autumn recall Webern’s Langsamer Satz (a piece outside of his thirty-one Opuses).

Disc Three opens with Sostenuto by Wolfgang Rihm, Alain Altinoglu at the helm for this impassioned and cathartically-climaxing music that is in the Mahler/Berg axis of composition, and compelling with it, an emotional rollercoaster. So too Who, What, Where, When, Why? by JacobTV (sic) – Jacob ter Veldhuis. This “snapshot of a rapidly changing world” (it’s from 2020), while directly engaging, is also difficult to pin down stylistically: gorgeously/filmic expressive, pop-jazzy (but not ‘classic’ of either), and turns on a sixpence from pessimism to optimism, melancholy to elation, regret to carefree. François-Xavier Roth conducts.

Clocks from A Winter’s Tale by Ryan Wigglesworth, conducted by the composer, shares musically with his synonymous Shakespearean opera. Lasting close on half-an-hour, Clocks is a vibrant and painterly score of the highest order, holding the attention as notes on the page and feeding the imagination for storyline, images and characters, exquisitely (including solo cameos) and powerfully orchestrated. In the final third I was reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Finally, Resilience, written last year for the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra by Rob Dirksen, a bassist in the RCO, scored for strings and intended for a streamed no-audience concert. Rather English-sounding, add in some Arvo Pärt and you have something hesitant, energetic and, come the end, radiantly resilient. Alexei Ogrintchouk (RCO principal oboe) conducts.

These concert recordings, with applause removed, are consistently excellent, likewise the RCO’s playing, and so too the multi-lingual, photograph-adorned, sung-text-included, booklet. RCO 20002 [3 SACDs]. Plenty of good things to return to… numerous blossoms from Amsterdam.

Concertgebouworkest – Beethoven Live – The Nine Symphonies, Nine Conductors.