Outside of the opera pit, Marc Albrecht and his Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra demonstrated their magic at the Concertgebouw. The evening included pieces from three composers challenging the possibilities of the forms of their time. Albrecht produced a thundering rendition of Bruckner’s Symphony no. 6 in A major, producing penetrating crescendos and a remarkable transparency for the many themes. Before the intermission, François-Frédéric Guy romanced the listeners in an epic performance of Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in A major, demonstrating his virtuosity and musical sensitivity to an exhilarated audience.

Marc Albrecht © Ilja Keizer
Marc Albrecht
© Ilja Keizer

The evening opened with Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata no. 1 orchestrated by Theo Verbey. As a concert opener, it prepared the audience for the richness of colours on tonight’s programme. The Dutch composer captured the expanding and contracting extremes from Berg’s solo piece, enriching it with a colourful density similar to one of George Benjamin’s soundscapes. For 13 captivating minutes, Albrecht manoeuvred his orchestra sehr mäßig through the loud, shrill high notes, often on the horns, to the softer subtleties, in particular the mesmerising oboe passages. Offering many explosive moments in the challenging harmonies, the timpani and percussion added an exotic dimension to the immense orchestration. 

Guy and Albrecht produced a passionate performance of Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto. Together with the orchestra, they overwhelmed the listener with Liszt’s clear, gushing moods. The Hungarian composer challenged the concerto form with this uninterrupted concerto with six segments each with a particular mood.

From the exquisitely performed opening theme on the clarinet in the Adagio sostenuto assai to the amorous duet between cello and piano in Allegro moderato, Albrecht brought out the best of his ensemble. Strings continuously charged their passages with a burning, dark-red glow. Sheer joy in the looks between the pianist and the conductor created a contagious energy for the audience. Guy impressed greatly as he sped through Liszt’s fast-paced passages without losing any of his commanding composure. Brass reached great heights during the last Allegro animato. Rarely have I witnessed an audience react so explosively. Guy returned for a very seductive rendition of Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde.

After the intermission, Albrecht demonstrated his Bruckner expertise with an impressive performance of his Sixth Symphony. In the Majestoso, he immediately infused the two contrasting themes with enriching transparency. As he elucidated each layer of Bruckner’s composition, the epic quality earlier with Liszt was absent. Still, Albrecht maintained the necessary suspenseful build-up: the brass proved yet again triumphantly powerful, while timpani could be felt reverberating heavily through the Great Hall.

In the Adagio: sehr feierlich, Albrecht continued to clearly contrast Bruckner’s enormous orchestral passages. Of the three themes, the singing oboe passages dazzled. Timpani simmered tensely in the background. In this slow, long movement, Albrecht managed to capture Bruckner’s solemn mood, but had some difficulty with Bruckner’s abrupt shifts in volume. In the wild Scherzo-Trio, Albrecht conjured up enormous energy with the various rhythmic complexities. The strings contributed a pulsating pizzicato, while the wind section had its moment to shine with its sparkling play off each other.

In the Finale, Albrecht continued to contrast Bruckner’s bombast with his lyricism: the strings waltzed, the brass beamed brightly in a glorious fanfare. The climax invigorated the audience after Bruckner’s long journey. With Albrecht as conductor at the Concertgebouw, the NPhO reached great heights this evening.

****1