fri 26/05/2017

Bruckner 8, LSO, Rattle, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Bruckner 8, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

Bruckner 8, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

Fresh perspectives on a symphonic monolith

The London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle in Bruckner's last completed symphony© Mark Allan for the Barbican

Last and most imposing of Bruckner’s completed symphonies, the Eighth invites and frequently receives architectural comparisons. Such talk of pillars and cathedrals could only be wide of the mark in the wake of this unconventional, beautifully prepared and deeply humane performance by the London Symphony Orchestra and their principal conductor designate, Sir Simon Rattle.

Over a span of 80-plus minutes, Bruckner transforms a double-dotted, death-watch tattoo in C minor into unanswerably emphatic C major. As ever, the destination is less important than the journey. The tempi were flexible, so that one episode eased into the next and although the pulse often changed, the harmonic undertow remained strong and steady. So did the narrative coherence of a piece which is often heard in terms of imposing but essentially static blocks placed beside one another for contrast more than continuity. Such a view was elegantly demolished. Rattle pressed on, even at the apotheosis of the Adagio, finding connections and grasping Ariadne’s thread in this symphonic labyrinth so that when the death-watch returned before the finale’s coda, its meaning and its redemption were plain to hear.

The sound of the LSO was shaped by a proprietary orchestral layout deriving from Rattle’s long experience with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin and Vienna. Divided violins made much of the finale’s contrapuntal interplay. Given their place in the sun directly in front of Rattle, violas warmed the teeming inner life of the Scherzo. Brass and timpani were carefully placed at opposite ends of the platform like the naughtiest boys in the classroom. The unconscious temptation to compete and dominate was thus avoided. The harvest of these orchestral manoeuvres, Bruckner Untangled.

Evidently rehearsed and run in after concerts in Luxembourg and Paris, there was much truly quiet playing to treasure – the first movement expired like a guttering flame – but more pertinently the distinction between forte and fortissimo always meant something. Never once blasting or blaring, this was a Bruckner performance for the unconverted. The execution was by no means faultless, particularly in the finale, but Rattle seemed to get what he wanted, and he knows how to get everyone to listen, both before and behind him; the audience was a twelfth man.

Before the interval, Pierre-Laurent Aimard was the unfussily stylish soloist in Couleurs de la cité celeste. Messiaen and Bruckner make good concert companions, not only as the most devotional of Catholic composers in the canon but in terms of formal and timbral contrasts: I have happy memories of Rattle’s pairing at the BBC Proms, many years ago, of the Seventh with Chronochromie (1960). Overlooked and underappreciated, Couleurs dates from three years later, still within Messiaen’s boldest and most innovative period. Determinedly non-developmental, it nonetheless encloses a processional of rainbow-dressed pilgrims on their way to the title’s heavenly city. Beautifully voiced brass chorales were punctuated here by coruscating solos from Aimard and incisive contributions from a trio of clarinets and a happy family of tam-tams. These joyous discontinuities made it all the easier to appreciate the Bruckner as a seamless garment.

Never once blasting or blaring, this was a Bruckner performance for the unconverted

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters