Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Rattle @ Barbican Hall, London

7 March 2011

Two works whose composers were contemplating the afterlife formed the programme for Sir Simon Rattles first concert with the London Symphony Orchestra for ten years. An auspicious occasion indeed, this was marked by warm applause from an expectant Barbican audience, many of whom doubtless saw him direct the Berliner Philharmoniker two weeks ago. This time Rattle provided us with the opportunity to celebrate the orchestral merits of our own capital, as he led a superb performance of music that both exalted and questioned its source material.

It is hard to imagine Messiaens five meditations on the resurrection, Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, receiving a better performance. With woodwind and brass choirs superbly marshalled, Rattle led a performance galvanized by a formidable battery of percussion, including three gongs, the largest of which was at least seven foot tall and dwarfed anyone who dared stand in front of it. The smallest of the three provided the climax for the increasingly febrile second meditation, its rush of shrill noise ringing in the ears long after the section had finished.

The fourth and final parts featured music of extraordinary power and emotion, the audience literally on the edge of their seats and clutching their programmes as tense wind chorales sparred with increasingly hefty percussion interludes, Messiaens music reaching for the ultimate heights. The silence following each section demonstrated the utter absorption of all those present, Rattle ever animated as he wrung every ounce of feeling from the glorious, treble-rich brass.

Bruckners final symphonic utterance, his Symphony no.9 , was just as keenly felt. Rattle has been honing his interpretations of the composer for some 15 years now, and the signs are he is now more inclined to concentrate on the breadth of his symphonic arches than fuss too much over the internal detail. This approach benefitted the first movement, with the proliferation of themes worked into a cohesive whole, and the Adagio, its opening never less than Mahlerian, with climaxes of heart wrenching beauty as the trumpets rang out above the throng.

Only in the first movement were more serious interpretative questions posed, with Rattle speeding up to and through the principal climax, ensuring a difference of musical opinion perhaps, but still a valid approach. The raw power of the scherzo may have been communicated with greater savagery by others, but to hone in on these points would be churlish. Put simply, this was a performance of sonic beauty, the inevitability of Bruckners symphonic writing communicated through the finely wrought emotion of its composers last years.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk

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