Mariss Jansons drives his 120-player musical Porsche into Brisbane with plenty of style and horsepower.

Queensland Performing Arts Concert Hall

November 24, 2013

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is currently celebrating its 125th birthday. What better way to honour this jubilee than to perform Ein Heldenleben op. 40 (A Hero’s Life) by Richard Strauss. A work the composer dedicated to the RCO. And it’s an excellent vehicle to reveal this Dutch orchestra’s mastery and finesse under the legendary direction of Chief Conductor Mariss Jansons.

Like the Porsche 918 Snyder, supposedly the most expensive car in the world, the Dutch superstar band of 120-players strong is fine tuned to perfection – it’s touch sensitive, it has more power than can be revealed within a concert hall. Jansons commands and the players’ response is instant, the sound distinctive, the articulation infinitely variable yet exact. The RCO is an orchestral wonder. You don’t have to agree with its interpretative direction to enjoy listening to it, the musical might is unmistakeable, the sound glorious.

Beethoven had the first word with an account of his Third Piano Concerto Op. 37 in the stormy key of C Minor, a favourite during his so-called “heroic period.” Anyone doubting the RCO’s pedigree would have changed their mind during the magically spacious placement of the opening’s first three notes.

Grammy award-winning Yefin Bronfman was the soloist. He was driven, precise with an impeccable technique and his performance robust and intelligent. And yes, so reassuringly professional, a pterodactyl could have swooped onto the raised piano lid and Bronfman would not have been distracted.

The cadenza in the first movement was a high point. Bronfman was convincing in channelling Beethoven’s contradictory at times menacing shifts in mood. But the most impressive factor was how soloist and orchestra were united in artistic purpose. Jansons enabled the solo figurations to shine and the pianist had artistic licence but never at the expense of the conductor’s insistence on overall coherence. It wasn’t a revelatory interpretation, but astonishingly polished and purposeful within traditional limits. The last chord was so fat and rounded it seemed to bounce off the stage.

It’s enlightening to witness the way Jansons conducts. He's in partnership with the instrumentalists, valuing and respectful rather than authoritarian. He sets up what he wants and then trusts the players to deliver and they do. Ein Heldenleben was superb, a memorable tour de force and the eight French horns and brass in general were a miracle in sound production. All sections excelled and the concertmaster “sang” the solo interludes in dialogue with the orchestra with exquisite tone and presence. Jansons achieves astonishing detail, particularly apparent in whispered passages when the luminous clarity in which all voices are heard, truly amazes.

The Royal Concertgebouw play QPAC November 25 and then continue their Australian tour to Sydney and Melbourne.