The dramatic events of the past week gave a tragic undertone to the last of the Robert Schumann-triptych concerts in Amsterdam. The musicians of The Chamber Orchestra of Europe dedicated the evening to the victims of the Paris attacks and started the programme with a minute’s silence. Though the Schumann’s compositions were programmed months before, they sounded as being chosen special for this commemorative tribute. The emotional suffering of Manfred strengthened the romantic dreaminess of the Piano Concerto and stressed remarkably an optimistic, life-asserting spirit of the Second Symphony.

Bernard Haitink © Clive Barda
Bernard Haitink
© Clive Barda
The world of Schumann’s orchestral works is a far from peaceful ocean of overwhelming, rending feelings and outpouring of emotions. The musical illustration for Byron’s poem Manfred is no exception: it is colored by emotional torments, inner struggling and a surging agitation. The accumulated grief splashes in the coda with a chorale-like theme developed in the brass and woodwinds. With additional meaningful this evening, the dramatic Ouverture (1852) was performed with such an intensity that everybody, from the orchestral musicians to the audience, seemed to need a break right after the final bars. The decision to place the grand piano on the stage only after Manfred was perhaps a little bit disturbing given the time it took, but it provided the needful respite and ensured a lasting impression from the opening.

The playful and lyrical Piano Concerto in A minor is one of the Schumann’s most popular compositions, full of impulsive mood-swings, interchanges between piano and the orchestra, several lyric clarinet and oboe solos and the virtuoso pianistic fireworks. The pianist Murray Perahia brought extra warmth to the orchestral sound, enriching it with a brilliancy and clarity of a subtle, brittle touch. He juggled effortlessness and playfulness and was more than impressive in the first movement cadenza. Sitting behind the conductor he demonstrated perfect timing and alertness. Bernard Haitink did not even have to turn to Perahia as both musicians connected faultlessly.

This same connection was felt between the Dutch conductor and the COE. Under Haitink’s guidance, Schumann’s musical ideas and dreams appeared as a constantly erupted but nevertherless tamed vulcan. With sparse gestures, Haitink regulated its flames and ensured a steady, continious stream of energetic sound flow. The structured balance of Haitink’s musical vision was obvious once again in the Second Symphony, performed with courage and spunk. A cascade of highlights, it had a true Schumannesque grandeur: the solemnity of brass fanfares, flowing strings, the lamenting oboe, the dazzling increasing tempo’s and a majestic finale.

The impact of this Schumann programme was able to give the audience a memorable energetic impulse and a real ‘thirst for life’ boost.