fri 18/04/2014

BBC Proms: Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle

A night of magic and transformation from one of the world's greatest orchestras

Sir Simon Rattle pushed the Berlin Philharmonic beyond their comfort zonePhoto Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

It's not completely unheard of what Rattle did at the start of last night's Prom, where he elided two familiar works - Ligeti's colouristic classic Atmosphères and the Prelude to Act One of Wagner's Lohengrin - into a seamless whole, beating without stopping from one into the other. But it was still pretty breathtaking. With the Wagner becoming an integral part of, and dreamy payoff to, Ligeti's wheezy Modernist nightmare, the works were transformed. In their place stood one single work: a strange new musical wonder by Ligetiwagner. It was the most magical opening to the Prom one could hope for.

It was also a perfect vehicle to show off the talents of the Berlin Phil and their chief conductor. This orchestra are always at their best when they're taken outside their comfort zone. They seemed to relish exploring and nailing Ligeti's extraordinary and still surprising sonic palette. If only all postwar music were played like this. That said, they're not bad at the core classics, as evinced by their majestic account of the Lohengrin prelude, a hard work to pull off that they made seem easy.

We staggered out of the semi-conscious first half into an all French second that was bathed in light and teeming with life

Sibelius - who has never entered the core rep in Germany - is unfamiliar territory for this orchestra too. Was this why there seemed to be such sponteneity, such an interesting freshness of spirit, to their take on the Sibelius Fourth Symphony? Whatever the reason, their interpretation worked beautifully within the dream-like unpredictability of the first half. Emphasising the hollow, searching, elliptical quality at the heart of the piece, Rattle's stamp (which, in the core classics, is often stymied by the orchestra's will) was crystal clear here.

We staggered out of the semi-conscious first half into an all French second that was bathed in light and teeming with life. Peerless in this repertoire and conducting without a score, Rattle gave a masterclass in how to bring order to Debussy's manically skittish Jeux, how to make its complexities clear, without robbing it of any of its organicism and exuberance. 

A nightmare, a dream, an uneasy liminal reality, an analytical game. The one state of mind we hadn't yet experienced was unabashed sensuality. Enter Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, the second part. What muscularity and fleshiness the Berlin Phil brought to Ravel's obscene unduluations. What generosity and elegance in Rattle's timing. Here, as elsewhere in the programme, the heavenly chatter of the woodwind hogged much of our attention. But no section disappointed. Itcapped off an extraordinary evening. In all their many London visits, I can't ever remember Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic delivering a programme of such delectable perfection.

Follow @IgorToronyi on Twitter

I can't ever remember Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic delivering a programme of such delectable perfection

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