A performance by Leo van Doeselaar on the Concertgebouw’s Maarschalkerweerd Organ in Saint-Saëns’ Symphony no. 3 in C minor should be a required experience for every music lover. Whatever the orchestra, this organist titularis’ control over this legendary engine viscerally elevates each musical experience. He accentuates the piece’s precious subtleties, while contrasting those with the finale’s majestic sonic pulses. The excitable Ed Spanjaard led the Philharmonie Zuidnederland in an uneven, episodic performance. The programme also included a technically impressive, though stolid, Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor by debutant Federico Colli.

Leo van Doeselaar © Marco Borggreve
Leo van Doeselaar
© Marco Borggreve

"Rach 3" is a potboiler of a piece young musicians often perform to demonstrate their technical skills. On that level, the Italian newcomer Federico Colli, winner of the Salzburg Mozart (2011) and Leeds International Piano (2012) Competitions, succeeded. Throughout the opening Allegro ma non tanto, Colli energized in some technically outstanding passages. His big hands sprawled over the keyboard, seemingly without effort, tackling Rachmaninov's high concentration of notes. Even though his indistinct phrasing failed to convey dramatic temperament, highlights did occur in his duet with the flautist – a charming chemistry that would resurface in later passages.

Colli made his way through the Intermezzo: Adagio evoking some flashes of melancholy, though he only intermittently managed to captivate. While Colli’s technical efforts proved formidable, his engagement with the orchestra came across as disjointed, failing to highlight his solos nor uniquely contrasting his voice with that of the orchestra.

In the Finale: Alla breve, Colli presented a stimulating, virtuosic cadenza, followed by the orchestra’s impressive interplay between the flute, clarinet and horn, producing another highlight. Notwithstanding his tremendous dexterity, the Italian still struggled to connect with the orchestra. This culminated in a perfunctory rendition that missed much of Rachmaninov’s Russian melancholy, in which the listener hopes to linger. Colli clearly possesses the technical mastery for this extremely challenging work, so it will be interesting to see how this work will grow with him over time.

In 1891 Michael Maarschalkerweerd created the enormous organ for the neo-gothic casing designed by A.L. van Gendt, Concertgebouw architect. Building and organ are inseparable. Intended to accommodate the organ works from the Romantic period, those pieces vividly come alive through its 59 registers. Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony” benefits enormously from the synergistic effects between hall, organ and the orchestra, resulting in a most memorable experience. Leo van Doeselaar proved indispensable, yet again, with his mastery over the instrument.

The first movement’s dramatic shifts between keys lacked momentum and came across as episodic. Spanjaard lacked his razor sharp precision with which the Dutchman famously manages to nail late 20th Century works. However, closing with the Poco adagio of the first movement, van Doeselaar produced a refined, dying suspense, spawning autumnal hues, while Spanjaard sweet-talked the strings into a throbbing passion.

In the final movement, van Doeselaar’s control generated the true high points of the evening, leading to an exhilarating Maestoso segment, bewildering the audience with the adrenaline-producing passages in this evening’s second potboiler. Equal to the powerful reverberations of an IMAX theatre, but without any electrical amplification, the seats of the Concertgebouw shook assuredly during the organ’s input. Within the framework of the energetic Philharmonie Zuidnederland, the summer evening ended with thunderous excitement.

***11