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ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA
PROGRAMME: Music by Wagenaar, Tchaikovsky & Brahms
CONDUCTOR: Charles Dutoit
SOLOIST: Janine Jansen, violin
VENUES: Artscape, Cape Town; City Hall, Durban; State Theatre, Pretoria
The past week’s visit of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) was so much more than just an event of historical importance. Not only are they the most prestigious symphonic orchestra to visit South Africa, but the promise of continuous co-operation between them and the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra to promote music education among historically disadvantaged communities, is an added bonus.
Over the 125 years of their existence, the RCO have developed a characteristic sound which is consistently nurtured to bring out the individuality of every pre-eminent music tradition, be it French, German, eastern European or Russian. They’ve also, through their long history, given prominence to the work of living composers. They have performed hundreds of world premieres on four continents.
In this year of celebration, they’re adding two more to their touring schedule: Africa and Australia. Their South African programme was an attractive but traditional one, representing works by Dutch, Russian and German composers.
Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit opened with an atmospheric rendering of the Late Romantic Dutch composer Johan Wagenaar’s Cyrano de Bergerac overture, based on the main character in the Frenchman Edwin Rostand’s play with the same title.
Influenced by composers like Richard Strauss, Berlioz and ever so slightly Elgar, this descriptive piece sound-wise brought out all the elements of this compelling love story.
For many the stirring highlight of these concerts would no doubt have been the impeccable pyrotechnics combined with the deeply felt levels of musical expression provided by the young Janine Jansen, who is regarded as one of the top five women violinists of our time.
In her performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D, Opus 35 she pleased the ear with very gentle playing, especially in the Canzonetta slow movement. However, there is also a sinewy strength, like in the finale which danced away with splendid vigour.
It was especially in these two movements where the partnership between Jansen, Dutoit and the RCO was exquisite and spirited. The reflective qualities of the former made it the heart of this concerto, while soloist and orchestra sparkled with Russian dance-like exhilaration, yet capturing fully the folk-like qualities of the secondary material where the RCO winds phrased every melodic contour with heart-rending detail.
On a virtuoso level Jansen has nothing to fear from any of her contemporaries. The finale was delivered with fantastically even articulation, and she added a dashing, volatile quality to her playing. Her solo Bach encore was like a halo of near-sacred purity.
It is a great conductor who can express all aspects and moods of any Brahms symphony. Dutoit is in that league. His interpretation of the Symphony No 1 in C minor, Opus 68 was one of a gentle progression from the introduction, which was not overinflated, towards the finale, which ends in the major. This is preceded by an extended process where vigorous playing by the orchestra as a whole, with great, often exhilarating solo work from individual sections, was thrillingly executed.
The concert ended deliciously with a Hungarian Dance by Brahms. Dutoit and the RCO had everyone truly smiling from ear to ear.