In a few months, Daniele Gatti will become the seventh Chief Conductor of the world famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Every concert with the upcoming maestro can count on the increased attention and understandable curiosity of the public. Well known as a guest conductor here, Gatti reacquainted himself with the Dutch public, a process extended outside the Great Hall, as cinemas released a documentary Daniele Gatti - Overture to a conductor. But a live concert is more intriguing than a film, especially if the programme provides an opportunity to experience the maestro in Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner. 

Daniele Gatti © Pablo Faccinetto
Daniele Gatti
© Pablo Faccinetto
The orchestral works in Gatti's RCO programme were all related to dramatic choices and life determining decisions. All three depicted the intensity of feelings of their romantic heroes: the poet-knight Tannhäuser, the musician Orpheus and Berlioz's artist in his Symphonie fantastique. These restless personalities provided three powerful and colourful musical tapestries each building to immense emotional climaxes. Close in dramatic sentiments, each of them could form an extended introduction to the following composition.

Wagner's Tannhäuser dramatises the conflict between sensual and spiritual love. The knight with the features of the legendary minnesinger Heinrich von Ofterdingen, escapes the seductions of Venus but cannot find rest and tries to expiate his sins with a pilgrimage. The opera's overture reminds of the various motifs from the opera, with the Pilgrims' Hymn as the most famous. The solemnity of a chorale unfolds into a majestic symphonic choir, initiated by clarinet, bassoon and horn. It expands further through the orchestra on its way to the dignified explosion under the bright accompaniment of strings. The more animated second part of Wagner’s overture is dominated by the chromatic theme of Venusberg and Tannhäuser's glorious hymn. Daniele Gatti adjusted the rolling ocean of sounds in masterly fashion and regulated the power of the upcoming ‘waves’, the balanced dynamic contrasts creating the necessary dramatic effect. With a strong sense of symphonic development, Gatti let the orchestra build a firm basis of solemnity to underpin Wagner's climactic themes. 

Nine years after Tannhäuser, Franz Liszt managed to cement Wagnerian grief and anguish with the poetic love of Orpheus, one of the most romanticized character of ancient myth. Orpheus inspired Liszt to write a tone poem full of sighs and sweet lamenting melodies. Due to the subtle sound transformations and the airy, fluid orchestration, the orchestra sounded as one immense lyre. The woodwinds, harps and strings all contributed to a light, airy performance. Gatti, giving due to tempi and orchestral balance, provided Orpheus with a sublime atmosphere but prevented it from a blurring into a shapeless romantic sigh. 

Ultimately, Orpheus failed to win back his beloved wife Eurydice. Berlioz never won the affections of actress Harriet Smithson from the start, eventually expressing his unrequited love in music. His Symphonie fantastique requires extravagent instrumental forces. Fortunately, the size of the Royal Concergebouw Orchestra didn’t influence the clarity or the rhythmical aspects of the performance. All the possibilities of its five movements were readily exploited. The beautiful solos, the high-spirited provoking strings, growling double basses and the rhythmic accelerations of the waltz depicted the whole range of melancholic dreams and nightmares. Berlioz actually composed it before Tannhäuser and Orpheus, and it was once the forerunner of the narrative, programmatic music. It turned out to be the most romantic, furious, spontaneous and inspiring part of the evening. The accumulated emotions and moderated dynamic contrasts from the first two compositions could finally unleash into a less restrained performance. Exalted and ecstatic, Berlioz’s hero appeared to be the most hot-blooded of the artists and poets in the programme. Gatti built up masterly tension through the whole programme to finish it with a splendid culmination in the Witches' Sabbath. 

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