fri 14/06/2024

Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle, RFH review - everything but inscape | reviews, news & interviews

Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle, RFH review - everything but inscape

Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle, RFH review - everything but inscape

Bruckner's Ninth with a conjectural finale resplendent as sound

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic last nightConcert images by Monika Rittershaus

Questions of interpretation apart, Simon Rattle has yet again proved the great connecter, this time in concerts separated by just over a month.

Having set his seal on his new, galvanizing partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra by asserting, as he has since the late 1970s, that Mahler's Tenth Symphony in Deryck Cooke's performing version is the true end of that composer's quest, he returned to London on his farewell tour with the Berlin Philharmonic to test the waters of a completion from fragments, the finale of Bruckner's Ninth.

Unless you buy into Robert Simpson's assertion that Bruckner finales are archaeological digs to the very fundamentals, they're usually the stickiest, most stop-start part of his peculiar edifices - the one in the Fifth Symphony excepted - and this one, perhaps, with the hands - namecheck - of Nicola Samale, Giuseppe Mazzuca, Alan Phillips and Benjamin-Gunnar Kohrs working on the sketches left behind, not much more so than most. It tells us nothing new like Mahler's final reconciliation with life and love, which in any case was all there in short score. Did Bruckner say it all in his most profound and shattering Adagio - did its ultimate calm need reworking in a faster peroration? Certainly unleashing the Berlin sound on it gave the last drive a peculiar and at least temporarily satisfying magnificence.

Hans AbrahamsenIt was good to see the eight double-basses on stage well before the rest last night. Their resonance - not so easy to achieve in the Festival Hall - underpinned so much, and their mysterious cave-painting initiated the last of Hans Abrahamsen's Three Pieces (the composer pictured right by Lars Skaaning), a compelling preface to Bruckner premiered in Berlin a few days ago. Racy, anxious pulsing grabs the attention at the start; Rattle drove it into the celestial twitterings - complete with two mobile phone obbligatos near where I was sitting - which are something of an Abrahamsen trademark, magically established in the 2016 Prom performance of let me tell you. The Danish composer knows how to extend the orchestral palette; Debussy would have been happy to have added what sounded like the evocative percussive dripping of water in the last piece to the scene in the vaults of his Pelléas et Mélisande.

Peerless in their hard work on new music, the Berlin/Rattle team brought a power to the Bruckner you could see in the extremes, to which the front desk of violas visibly strove with their first-violin colleagues in cosmic tremolos; this is an orchestra that's always good to watch. Milton's Satan is the figure I'm reminded of in the Ninth's great strivings - "apprehending the good, but powerless to be it," (OK, that's Melville rather than Milton) at any rate for long. You could hear the grinding of the infernal machinery, no doubt deliberately, but it's not the whole story; if we're considering Brucknerian possibilities at the very highest level, then Abbado had the mobility of which Rattle falls just a little short, and Haitink tends to inscape the lines more tellingly, as well as making it all sound that much more organic (may he conduct the Ninth at least once again in London before he bows out). Rattle and the Berlin PhilPerhaps, too, as at the Barbican, Rattle was proving his point that we need a new London hall with more air around the sound. But the opulent-mournful ensemble of horns and Wagner tubas has no superior anywhere in the world, and there were exquisite subtleties of phrasing and texture from oboist Jonathan Kelly, flautist Emmanuel Pahud and clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer (shame the programme didn't state who was playing in which concert; and its "listening guides" were about as sketchy, and sometimes downright misleading, as you can get - time to stop dumbing down the writing). Would the Adagio have gone deeper as an endgame, without that problematic finale? Hard to tell - it's not a quality associated with this partnership - but simply as sound, the whole experience was indeed overwhelming.


Overwhelming is the word for it. Brahms 1 tonight....

The completed fourth movement was not totally convincing - but, as you say, how could it be after that Adagio (a case for reversing the middle movements if playing the fourth?) But it just did not matter - the sound of the orchestra is just extraordinary and it was a privilege to hear it. That sense of playing as a single instrument producing a sound that is not a sum of parts - "simply as sound, the whole experience was indeed overwhelming". Just so.

I believe it is not so unusual for the double basses to appear on stage before most of the other members of the orchestra, timpanist and percussionists apart. It is a continental tradition to allow the basses to attend on stage before most of their colleagues, which threw me when I worked as a stage manger for the European youth orchestra! A superb concert. The playing was flawless.

Interesting. I've only seen it once before. Certainly not a UK tradition. But unquestionably the basses' role in the concert was a major one.

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