A programme consisting of Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and La Mer, as well as Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps meant all was on alert for this programme in the Concertgebouw. Here was an array of beautiful music, all written at a time when boundaries and conventions were being demolished and everything seemed to be possible. It was a true achievement of Daniele Gatti and his Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam that he was capable of finding a new dimension in this familiar music, like the transcendence from the beauty of the Faune, subtle and enchanting, towards the beastly energy of Sacre.

Daniele Gatti © Pablo Faccinetto
Daniele Gatti
© Pablo Faccinetto

The faun in Debussy’s Prélude emerged very slowly from the famous flute opening solo, the beat of the performance rarely so slow and relaxed. It was as if Gatti wanted to give the solo players all freedom of performance, progressing in their own manner. This was demonstrated by a visibly relaxed Gatti, leaning on the railing, his left hand in resting mode. It was Debussy's Faune as chamber music, holding back until the demands for more colour or more dynamics demanded the conductor's intervention. Soft music was played even softer, the horns playing beautifully, incredibly controlled and quiet, adding a real sensation to the score.

The dynamic details Gatti shaped in La Mer were very special. In most recordings, they are just not audible. A subtle motion in the strings did not disappear once a new melody emerged from the woodwinds. Layer upon layer was added, creating the image of the surf with new breakers covering the returning ones. The strings seemed to play with just one hair from their bows, creating a music that was hardly audible, with an enchanting atmosphere. Ensemble playing was crystal clear, as if the air in the Concertgebouw was interacting with the ripples and dynamics. Crescendos were built gradually, with precision and care, although the final climax felt a bit abrupt.

Sacre is an animal of a work, to be chased from its cave by the conductor and his orchestra. Although Gatti isn’t the most charismatic of conductors, he passed the test of bringing the ballet score alive, kicking onto the stage. Decisive moments were those where the timpani and other percussion, the two tubas and the eight horns created a burning fever. This music moved towards sheer terror with such intensity, the powerful timpani creating shudders in the Hall. Sometimes the balance needed adjustment, such as in the first movement where the horns seem to be overpowered by the rest of the brass. But when all inhibitions were cleared and pure passion took over the orchestra, it was admirably forceful. And even in the fastest passages there were no faults, creating the greatest tension in this musical drama. The crescendo of the final Danse sacrale overpowered the audience. Credit must be given to the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Gatti, performing this music with such beauty and unmatched quality. A truly memorable performance.