Friday, April 16, 2021

Concertgebouw, Concertgebouwplein 10, 1071 LN Amsterdam, Netherlands

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Mozart’s C-minor Piano Concerto (K491) can be an uninviting place to visit, trapping the best. Enter Víkingur Ólafsson, making his Royal Concertgebouw debut, likewise his first appearance with Paavo Järvi. Elevating it to something else, immersed in notes, texture and colour, taking risks at the quietest dynamic levels, delighting in murmured legato phrases and feathered mezzo-staccato runs, now turning to the orchestra to animate the tuttis, now burying his head in the keyboard, lightly ornamenting, dispatching his own inventively thoughtful, structurally aware cadenzas (first-movement scale rather than trill join), he commanded attention from first to last. This was no ordinary outing, far from it. Exquisite beauty of tone and touch, deep-throated forte resonances, a plethora of woodwind and piano exchanges gracefully dovetailed made for special moments, the barely whispered intimacy of the Larghetto transporting us, in Alfred Einstein’s classic words, to “regions of the purest and most moving tranquillity.” The stuff of heartbreak. The shifts of tempo overall, variously drawing back and urging onwards, yielded a global canvas that worked naturally without mannerism, Järvi on hand to encourage and converse. Eloquent, punctuated, fluid musical speech. Beethoven’s admiration for this Concerto was unbound. Surely he would have applauded the fantasy of this performance.

Opining that Mozart could not have written such music without knowing Bach, Ólafsson offered a single encore – the B-minor Andante from J. S.’s Fourth Organ Sonata, BWV528, transcribed by August Stradal. A hallowed, slow tensioned, dynamically intensified traversal journeying from candled glimmer to mountains at high noon, holding the orchestra transfixed.

Järvi’s way with Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony has long been invigorating – the Rhine in full flow, Cologne Cathedral and noble brass chorales from beyond rather than within, E-flat horns in bells-up hunting cry. At around thirty-four minutes, this account gave the orchestra plenty of opportunity to shine, but also to slip into corners of darker-held mystery. The Scherzo – so-called but not of the hammering Beethoven/Bruckner kind – was enchantingly graceful, the third movement a perfectly calculated intermezzo jewelsmith-cadenced. Playing with time, flexing Schumann’s phrases, bringing his syntax to life, can be a recipe for disaster. Not in Järvi’s hands. He’s a musician who conceives every gesture as an organic event, placed and breathing. Articulate music-making, economy at a premium, doing no more than necessary yet electric. Uplifting.

Part of Holland’s current national pilot project, this concert trialled an audience of 425 in the main auditorium. With coffee tables, tankards of beer and glasses of wine to hand, fine dresses glowing in the dimmed wall lights, it made for a friendlier social environment than at the Berlin Philharmonie two weeks ago. Notwithstanding curfew closedown at ten o’clock, a sense of occasion, an evening finally out, was palpable.