It was interesting to see how the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, its Amsterdam base one of the world's greatest concert
rooms, approached the prospect of performing in a comparative Johnnycomelately of illustrious halls, when they launched Symphony Hall's 16th International Concert Season on Saturday.
Acoustic-chamber doors were all but closed, the players were grouped compactly on less than the whole stage, and woodwind positioning was decidedly eccentric ( bassoons tucked up tight against the harps to the left of the platform).
But the resulting sound was glorious, tight and clearlyetched, every detail of the scores making unforced points.
Much of the thanks for this, of course, lies with the endearingly self-effacing conductor Mariss Jansons, only the sixth music director in this wonderful orchestra's proud history.
In these two diametrically opposed scores (Debussy's Images, at root elusive, and Sibelius' Symphony no.2, rugged and gritty) he delved beneath the composers' demands and released from his musicians playing where characterful communication took first place above mere virtuosity.
Debussy's detail was subtly enveloped within Jansons' overall phrasing, sparkling little cells making their mosaic-like contributions over underlying rhythmic tension. We had an unusual but effective movement- order here: Gigues, Rondes de
Printemps and finally the picturesque Iberia.
Shifting from the Mediterranean, via the North Sea, to the Baltic, Sibelius' Second Symphony moves from the elemental to sunny affirmation, and Jansons' reading drew both qualities from his responsive players. Warmth rather than austerity was the keyword for this reading, Jansons achieving a patient but wonderful link into the finale. Timpani were occasionally overhit for emphasis, but sharp, incisive articulation conveyed the logic of this Janus-like work.
The Infernal Dance from Stravinsky's Firebird made an effective encore.