While hundreds of people gathered in front of the big screens in the Museum Square to watch the Dutch national football team play its first World Cup match, another crowd gathered just metres away, in a nearly sold out Concertgebouw. The concert they were there to see was performed by the Gelders Orchestra under Antonello Manacorda.

Antonello Manacorda © Stefan Gloede
Antonello Manacorda
© Stefan Gloede

The concert began with the most literal of musical openings: the overture, to be specific, the 'Ouverture caractéristique' from Hector Berlioz's Le carnaval romain. This exuberant piece draws on another opera from Berlioz, Benvenuto Cellini. Conductor Manacorda started out merrily with brisk pacing, just right for the energetic opening phrases of the overture. There were calm passages too, but it was at the carnivalistic moments highlighted by a very good triangle player that the Gelders Orchestra excelled. Here, they made you appreciate the almost kitsch score.

Antonín Dvořák was the focus for the rest of the evening. Dvořák had always been hesitant about writing a concerto for cello, but after hearing some successful examples, he changed his mind and wrote his own Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104. It was performed by Maximilian Hornung, for whom the evening marked his first time in the Concertgebouw as a soloist in an orchestral work. Sitting next to the conductor, Hornung released earthen, woody tones from his cello; a sound that recalled the historical tradition of works such as Bach's Chaconne. This fitted perfectly with Dvořák's music – music about life. It was a little unfortunate that Hornung was sometimes outplayed by the orchestra, with its much louder sound.

The highlight of the concert was without a doubt Dvořák's lavish Ninth Symphony “From the New World”. Like the Cello Concerto, Dvořák's Ninth is one of the works he composed during his residency in the United States of America. He lived there between 1892 and 1895, working as an artistic director and professor of composition at the National Conservatory of Music in America, New York. The president of the Conservatory, Jannette Thurber, who had invited Dvořák, hoped that he would help to create a national American music style. Dvořák started researching Afro-American music and implementing a few traditional elements into his compositions. The opening Adagio was framed by passion and rapture, but the parts in between were too slow. This also went for the Scherzo, a movement which needed more vivacity; instead, the orchestra sounded struggling and restrained. The Allegro con fuoco finale, on the other hand, was played just a tad too hastily and ended with an anticlimactic dying end note. The high point in the work was a flawless Largo, achingly beautiful at times. The main theme of the Largo has been turned into a Negro spiritual – not completely unexpected when one realizes that Dvořák himself hoped it would form part of a choral work based on The Song of Hiawatha

Overall, Manacorda directed all the works in an animated fashion, making dynamic gestures, ranging from clenched fists up in the air to gentle movement. He managed to convey this energy to the orchestra, but nonetheless, their play could have been a bit more powerful. All in all, the orchestra created moments of brilliance, but in the end they were only moments. Nothing can beat a performance of Dvořák's brilliant Ninth, even the news of the Dutch football team's victory over Spain! 

***11