BBC Proms reviews

Prom 65: Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle @ Royal Albert Hall, London

3 September 2008

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Christie Goodwin/Royal Albert Hall)

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmoniker deliver freshly-minted performances of two cornerstones of the symphonic repertoire a superbly detailed rendition of Brahms’ 3rd and a coruscating reading of Shostakovich’s 10th.

Some critics have accused Rattle of forsaking the Berlin Phil’s heritage namely those works emanating from the German Romantic period but last night’s concert would have quelled their fears as Rattle led the Berliners in a scrupulously detailed, wonderfully restrained yet evocative reading of Brahms’ Third Symphony. It’s certainly his most introspective symphony, and shortest, but Rattle’s total involvement was evident from the first bars the portentous opening theme given its due weight, and wonderfully articulated by the strings.

Much ink has been spilt by critics trying to explain the Berlin-sound, but suffice it to say the string tone is warm and opulent whilst the woodwind and brass playing has a glorious glow to it. Conductor and orchestra breathed as one, each was perfectly attentive to the other and it’s hard to think of many conductors who could coax such an introspective, finely-detailed performance as this. In short it was a revelation.

Having said that, after the interval we were treated to an exceptional performance of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony indeed I don’t think I’ve experienced such a sensational reading, in the concert hall at least, of this magnificent work. It was evident from the barely audible opening theme that we were in for a musical treat and we weren’t disappointed. Throughout the ensuing sixty minutes Rattle’s grasp of the architecture of the piece was faultless, maintaining tension throughout the lengthy first movement and building the climaxes organically from the depths of the orchestra so when the players were allowed their heads, as in the sardonic second movement, the results were shattering.

The playing throughout was exemplary and the challenges that the composer throws at the woodwind and brass were met head on. It seems invidious to single out any particular players from this tightly-knit ensemble but Wenzel Fuchs’ clarinet playing was mesmerising as was Radek Baborak’s horn playing in the third movement. An unforgettable evening.

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Prom 66: Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle @ Royal Albert Hall, London
Prom 65: Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle @ Royal Albert Hall, London
Prom 64: Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle @ Royal Albert Hall, London