Under conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, the Residentie Orkest presented an exuberant programme of perennial favourites including Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Ouverture, Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1 with soloist Wibi Soerjadi, and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali © Kaapo Kamu
Santtu-Matias Rouvali
© Kaapo Kamu

Rouvali opened the programme with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, a seascape which the young Finnish conductor evoked with fluid gestures. The upper winds were in particularly good form with beautiful cantabile lines. Rouvali’s indications of large-scale rubato were evocative and finely executed. Notably, he connected closely with the solo clarinet’s sensitive rhythmic flexibility. In this overture, Rouvali struck a fine balance between delicacy and force.

Chopin was not famous as an orchestrator. The role of the orchestra in his First Piano Concerto is mostly decorative rather than as an equal conversational partner to the soloist. However, the Residentie Orkest played passionately in the ritornelli, introducing the major ideas of the piece in broad strokes.

Soerjadi has developed a remarkably varied palette of light colours, drawing the listener into his sound. Occasionally, his extreme tenderness in cantabile sections was covered by the winds, who played at the physical limit of softness. Soerjadi’s passagework was executed elegantly and clearly, though some arrivals lacked elements of danger and surprise. Rouvali’s connection with the soloist’s rhythmic flexibility was subtle and perceptive.

Soerjadi’s second movement, Romanze: Larghetto, was sublime. He demonstrated his facility with light colours and varied touch particularly finely here in introspective cantabile lines and delicate filigree. Soerjadi’s sensitivity here contrasted Rouvali’s more energetic, muscular approach. His execution of the third movement was charming and elegant rather than rustic. Soloist and conductor came to a happy medium in this movement with structural rhythmic flexibility at several important arrivals. Soerjadi received an immediate standing ovation for his fine performance, and he leapt up and embraced the conductor. His encore showed his strengths very well.

After the pause, Rouvali led an animated and fresh performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, nicknamed “the apotheosis of the dance” by Richard Wagner. The first movement’s slow introduction was appropriately mysterious. The upper winds signalled a lively dance character with dotted rhythms in the beginning of the Vivace. In a few moments in the Vivace, Beethoven’s writing dissolves into something which nearly sounds like minimalist music. In these sections, Rouvali embraced the gloriously chaotic elements of Beethoven’s composition. The Residentie Orkest responded with fire and power at the upper limit of the ensemble's dynamic possibilities.

Rouvali continued the dance in the second movement, taking a rather brisk tempo with the march theme. The Allegretto featured beautiful phrasing and dynamic contrast. The fugato section was played with remarkable lightness and clarity followed by a large-scale tempo expansion at the dramatic climax of the movement.

The Presto was played briskly and fleetly. In this movement, they might have been somewhat more daring with Beethoven’s treacherously soft dynamic indications. There were a few strange accentuations of harmonic resolutions in transitional sections. However, Rouvali again showed a fine sense for large scale tempo flexibility in this movement. Beethoven’s sarcastic Ländler squeezebox melody was played with a healthy dose of good humour by the second horn player.

Under Rouvali, the Allegro con brio was overwhelmingly fast and loud, exhausting to hear and watch, but entirely thrilling from beginning to finish. The second violin section should be applauded for the precise engine they maintained. Rouvali accentuated the violence of this movement. Here, the exuberant timpani player here played a particularly critical role. In the final crescendo, the tension was heightened by the clarity of the punctuations of the trumpets and timpani. The Residentie Orkest closed the movement with intensity and flair.

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