Looking towards the audience's summer holiday plans, the concert billing's “imaginary world travels” presented during the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra's NTR Zaterdagmatinee at the Concertgebouw was a sneak peek towards luscious, exotic foreign climes, tentatively now almost in reach. Unfurling before us were Richard Rijnvos’ Amérique du Sud, completing his Grand Atlas – répresentation du monde universel en sept tableaux musicaux, followed by Manuel de Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España, and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony no. 9 in E minor, “From the New World”.  Considering the constituent parts that go into making an orchestra a cohesive whole, I was truly awed by the flexibility of the NRPO in its breadth of programming. Contained fluidly under the baton of Pablo Heras-Casado they breathed as one, in three distinct guises. No mean feat, given the times.

Pablo Heras-Casado
© Fernando Sancho

About the programming, we journeyed from today, with Rijnvos’ freshly minted world premiere, through dreamy De Falla, arriving at the symphony. With a sense of reverse reductionism, and given our perception of time in these pandemic days, it felt wholly fitting. 

At the top of the programme, with the floor wide open, the exquisite delicacy of Rijnvos’ opening foray into his South American voyage breathed distinct life into his musical vehicle, the orchestra. Precision-orchestrated transcriptions of Amazonian rainforest creatures, derived from intricate computer analyses, the sonic form evoked hovering tightly above, oscillating skittishly from left to right. So scrupulously were the sounds formed and shaped, the size of a string quartet channelled made more sense of the sounds in front of me. I blinked; it was an orchestra. Definitely. With as tightly formed coloration as Clara Iannotta imbues in her string quartet writing, here Rijnvos edged his palette increasingly outwards, shading delicacy of timbre still further, making thorough use of each timbral brush stroke. Widening the palette outwards including shadings of shadows of inflections, the wisp of a thought. A perfectly captured moment, and opening, this was, stunning. Such tight delicacy of focused sound, truly belying its sonic origin.

Suspending our disbelief for a long-extended moment, we moved then onto persuasive, charismatic sketches evoking Argentina and Chile: sumptuous tangos and kaleidoscopic colourful rhythmic rampages, a life-affirming journey of sensuous nostalgia, adventures, yet another turn in the road up ahead; a jouissance of a world savoured, to be enjoyed. Sound shimmered, jostled, and dazzled. Lush, held in the spell of what tumbled expertly before us, reaching the end of his world navigation, it was good to see Rijnvos deservedly celebrated centre stage, in his home country.  

As a companion to Rijnvos, De Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España, completed 107 years ago, dovetailed comfortably with the new South American vista. Basking in a familiar language in well-trodden nostalgia, woven easily between piano and orchestra, familiar exchanges in language and gestures were evoked of simpler times past. Bertrand Chamayou, alternating effortlessly between grand gesturing, moulding and shaping to fit within the orchestral fabric, fitted like a glove.   

Heras-Casado attuned his range of control a whole level higher for an exhilarating Dvořák Ninth. As the Dutch saying goes, he was the spider at the centre of the web, spinning the orchestra in an increasingly committed, visceral execution of the symphonic form. The orchestra in this home stretch, enjoyed and luxuriated in the gathering, sumptuousness of symphonic progression in this beautiful hall.