Sir Simon Rattle has always been known as a musician of tremendous energy. But he will need to really dig deep into his reserves for the year ahead of him. The 2017-2018 season is his last with the Berlin Philharmonic and there will be numerous special events scheduled as part of his farewell. But overlapping with all these activities in Berlin will be Rattle’s first season as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. To kick off the Rattle era the LSO has planned a ten-day celebration called “This is Rattle.” He conducts Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust and a concert featuring Stravinsky’s three great Russian ballets: The Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring. But in addition there are all kinds of multi-media events, chamber music, outdoor concerts and more. Complete details can be found on the London Symphony Orchestra’s website.
This new Blu-ray disc and DVD set documents an exciting concert given by Rattle and the LSO from January 13, 2016. It is very much a sign of things to come with imaginative programming and inspired execution.
The concert begins with a superb performance of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. It is precise down to the last detail but even more impressive to my ears was the expressiveness Rattle found in phrase after phrase without personalising the score in any way. The performance of the familiar Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2 at the end of the concert is just as good with virtuoso playing—not least of all from Adam Walker, the LSO’s terrific first flute—and the widest possible range of orchestral colours.
Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) composed music that was a highly unique blend of originality and accessibility. L’arbre des songes (The Tree of Dreams) is a violin concerto written in the years 1979-85 for Isaac Stern. It is a complex piece but deftly manages to allow for the expression of the voluptuous romantic tone for which Stern was famous. Here, Leonidas Kavakos gives it a totally committed performance.
Maurice Delage (1879-1961) is a composer whose name is not often found on concert programs these days. He was greatly influenced by his exposure to the music of Japan and India and his Quatre poèmes hindous (Four Hindu Poems) shows how well he could absorb Indian music into his own style. This is chamber music with only a handful of musicians required. The songs are exquisite and the performance could hardly be better.
Many people were puzzled when Rattle decided to leave the Berlin Philharmonic to take up a position with the LSO. Surely this was a step down. Not necessarily. The LSO is a world-class ensemble, and under a conductor of Rattle’s quality as good as any orchestra in the world. For the LSO this is an opportunity to raise its profile and a chance to finally get the concert hall it deserves: the Barbican has very poor acoustics and is a major impediment to the orchestra’s development.
The LSO is also coming off the tenure of its absentee music director in Valery Gergiev. When he was good he was sensational but too often he flew in at the last moment for rehearsals and concerts and was gone the next day. Rattle will be physically present much more often and will spearhead exciting projects that will make the LSO the orchestra to watch in the U.K. and the world.
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