Rattle conducts Berg and Beethoven

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Philip M
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Joined: Thu Aug 22, 2019 2:38 am

Rattle conducts Berg and Beethoven

Post by Philip M » Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:54 pm

I heard the LSO under Simon Rattle twice this week - in Symphony Hall in Birmingham on Tuesday and in the Barbican in London on Thursday. The programme was the same - Berg in the first half and Beethoven in the second.

There were 3 Berg works. The concert opened with Berg’s Seven Early Sings sung superbly by Dorothea Röschmann. They was written when Berg was in his 20s. They are wonderful pieces, Strauss being never far away. They are beautifully, often delicately, scored. The second song for instance is scored for string quintet and winds. They are short, the 7 songs in total lasting about 18’. Röschmann sang them with attention to detail and demonstrated a wonderful range of colour. A superb voice and performance.

Rattle, as always, accompanied with sensitivity. After the songs we had 2 orchestral Berg pieces. The recently completed Passacaglia and the Three Pieces Op.6. The 4’ Passacaglia was abandoned by Berg after 100 bars. He left an indication of the scoring. Christian von Borries orchestrated it and it was first performed in 1999. I hadn’t heard it before and found it a good introduction the the Op.6.

The Op.6 is a stunning masterpiece. It’s hard to believe it was written over 100 years ago. Karajan said that the Op.6 and Sibelius 4 were the hardest pieces to conduct. It is not an easy listening but persevere - it will reward you. There are quotes fromBeethoven 5 - yes THAT theme! Rattle’s performance was fabulous. Every detail could be heard, and there was passion and drive. The massive hammer blows (Berg inspired by Mahler 6) were earth-shattering.

After the interval - Beethoven 7. I first heard Simon conduct this symphony as part of his first complete Beethoven cycle in 1995. And I’ve heard him conduct it several times since. He does it well! As ever, there is extraordinary attention to detail and balance. The highlight was probably the Allegretto where Simon builds and builds slowly from the quiet opening to the climax. Some irritations - in all the movements there are some points where he slows down, then quickens up. Not marked in the score. The Scherzo was too earthbound. I wish he’d let it go a bit more. It was too controlled. Let the fun emerge!

For me the best ever 7th is Toscanini in 1936 with NYPO. Was that really 84 years ago?! Others I like include Karajan (1963), Kleiber, Konwitschny, and, if you like a weighty 7th, Furtwänglet. I haven’t heard it for nearly 50 years but I seem to recall the Colin Davis recorded a fine 7th as a very young man.

How did Rattle’s 2 performances compare? No comparison. The acoustics of Symphony Hall allowed the LSO to feel free from the restraints of The Barbican. It felt too constrained in there.

Both concerts got a standing ovation.


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