Sir Simon Rattle here combined the First and Second Viennese Schools, with music by Berg and Beethoven. Berg wrote his second opera – Lulu, based on a pair of plays by Frank Wedekind – and before it was finished he made a sort of “demonstration” suite. It remains much more than that, a condensation of the opera into just 35 minutes. Gareth Davies’ flute and Timothy Jones’s horn were beautifully poised in their evocative opening contributions, while the strings had exquisite sheen in the wide intervals of their many sensuous passages in the long outer movements. The second and fourth movements cover more diverse musical terrain with rapid changes of mood, but the London Symphony Orchestra seems able to shape-shift instantly to depict anything, even the few bars of popular song in the fourth movement Variations. Iwona Sobotka’s lustrous soprano, and her gleaming tone and accuracy above the stave were ideal in the central Lied der Lulu and in the final despairing appeal of Countess Geschwitz. Rattle maintained high intensity throughout.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the LSO © Candice Witton
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the LSO
© Candice Witton

So effective was the suite and this performance in distilling the world of Lulu that it could have been difficult to go back more than a century to the idealistic statement of Beethoven’s Ninth, as a transition from decadence and violent death to universal brotherhood seems a bit of a stretch. Perhaps that’s why George Bernard Shaw, a great lover of the Ninth, said anyone who programmed anything else with it should be imprisoned. Yet Sir Simon still avoids incarceration, perhaps because on Wednesday he had played the Ninth – superbly well, and to a packed house – all on its own in their “Half-Six Fix” series.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra © Candice Witton
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
© Candice Witton

This performance was even better, and already sure to be a major highlight of Beethoven 250 in London. Once the mighty opening of the first movement erupted, Lulu’s personal drama was quite banished by more world-shaking aspirations. The Scherzo was hardly less demonic in its drive, its Trio enchantingly led by Juliana Koch’s dancing oboe solo. In the Adagio, Rattle took us back a decade or ten, with a very broad tempo, quickened just enough for the Andante theme, loving phrasing, a concern for string sound that certainly admitted some vibrato, and an intensity of lyrical feeling that became gloriously transcendent. Time stood still during the sixteen minutes of this sublime account. (Norrington nine, Furtwangler thirteen, and Klemperer fifteen minutes, since you ask). Is it still permitted to play the Adagio like this? While that dangerous recidivist Simon Rattle remains at liberty it would seem so.

Iwona Sobotka, Anna Stéphany, Robert Murray and Florian Boesch © Candice Witton
Iwona Sobotka, Anna Stéphany, Robert Murray and Florian Boesch
© Candice Witton

Carlo Maria Giulini told Rattle (according to his pre-concert talk on Wednesday) to pick soloists “who could sing a Bach cantata”. This quartet would qualify given their credentials, and benefited from being placed in front of the choir (on Wednesday they had been right over on one side). Beethoven’s vocal writing can seem perversely demanding at times, but these singers had the measure of it, especially in their ecstatic final pages. The LSO Chorus was on stirring form, at times truly feuertrunken. Since they and the conductor needed no score, there was a direct engagement with Rattle’s detailed directions. The outcome was an electric immediacy. Simon Halsey had prepared them perfectly for not only did every one of them know the notes, but they also knew the words – so well articulated with pinging consonants – and what they meant. “Alle Menschen werden Brüder”? Maybe – if all the world’s movers and shakers heard this heaven-storming performance, they would have leapt to the feet like everyone else.

*****