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EDITIONS
Saturday, 12 October, 2002, 01:11 GMT 02:11 UK
Rattle's energetic UK return
Sir Simon Rattle (photograph: Simon Fowler)
Bruckner and Schoenberg works were performed

This was not just a concert, but a historic event.

For those in the full-to-bursting Royal Festival Hall - well-known musicians among them - our boy had come home a changed man.

We were all familiar with his conducting, but not of the world's greatest orchestra.

Would this symphonic Rolls Royce simply carry him along, or would he already have made his own mark on the players?


There was an energy and clarity to the interpretation which is most definitely Rattle's own

It cannot be said of Simon Rattle that he was not a prophet in his own land, but in the end his own land did not give music the support he required.

For behind his apparent self-effacing, jokey Englishness is a man with very un-English qualities: he takes his art deadly seriously, for one.

To prove it, his first of two programmes began with Schoenberg's own arrangement of his String Quartet No. 2 for string orchestra - hardly the music to get the punters' pulses racing.

Yet as soon as bows met strings it became clear why he had chosen it: it's the most fiendish test of any string section to play literally as one instrument.

'Joy'

It only works when, as here, intonation is well-nigh perfect and attack and phrasing are minutely worked through as to sound spontaneous.

The Berlin strings are a joy to hear: the famously sonorous tone rang out in the unforgiving acoustic of the Festival Hall, and Rattle shaped a performance full of fine detail and excitement.

Soprano Dawn Upshaw, joining them for the third and fourth movements, caught the nervy mood and her voice opened like a flower for the final deliverance into eternity, though her voice is perhaps not otherworldly enough for this work.

The blockbuster of the evening was Bruckner's majestic ninth symphony, not as popular as Mahler's Fifth, which he will be conducting tonight, but a great work to showcase a crack orchestra.


Rattle switched between one section and another with the ease of one changing channels by remote control

Despite some tuning problems in wind and brass, the first movement had an impressive forward sweep and the famous melody was played with such beautiful tone one could forget the lack of tenderness.

The middle scherzo was thundering and demonic - old Bruckner could give Shostakovich a run for his money - and Rattle brought a laconic perfection to the mercurial trio which verged on Prokofiev.

From the vigorous shaking of heads and occasional whispering, it was clear there were devotees in the audience who knew how they liked their ninth, and perhaps felt Rattle rushed through some of the ominous, mystical pauses that punctuate the final movement.

Bruckner throws great slabs of gorgeous music against each other without linking them: Rattle switched between one section and another with the ease of one changing channels by remote control, revelling in the start-stop shocks.

'Energy'

Mostly it worked; sometimes there was insufficient ebb and flow.

Although behind me one listener was audibly weeping, there was something about the awesome power and confidence of this performance, and the sheer pleasure in music-making going on stage, that prevented melancholy.

There was an energy and clarity to the interpretation which is most definitely Rattle's own.

But Abbado is a hard act to follow: the jury's still out on whether this charismatic leader is a truly great conductor.

See also:

12 Oct 02 | Entertainment
07 Sep 02 | Entertainment
22 Aug 01 | Entertainment
13 Jul 99 | Entertainment
24 Jun 99 | Entertainment
28 Aug 98 | Entertainment
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