Like a blast from the past, Sir Simon Rattle, here with the London Symphony Orchestra, delivered a programme of mostly 20th-century classics that could have come from his early glory days in Birmingham. This was the repertoire that established his popularity and best shows how transcendent he is as a musical communicator. The result was a showstopper of a concert that evidently energised both performers and audience alike.

Peter Moore
© LSO | Kevin Leighton

Also typical of Rattle was the inclusion of a rarity, in this case the absorbing and delicate Fantasma/Cantos II by Tōru Takemitsu. Nestled in the middle of the extrovert programme, this atmospheric evocation for trombone and small orchestra depicts walking through a Japanese garden and is representative of the composer’s post-impressionistic style. Its secrets are only fully revealed on repeated hearings, but it is nevertheless an attractive work for the uninitiated. The lustrous soloist was the orchestras Principal Trombone, Peter Moore, whose golden tone shone ecstatically through Takemitsu's ingenious orchestration.

Berlioz' overture Le Corsaire also has its delicate moments after the initial flurry, but soon built up to a roistering piratical festival of brassy sound. There was nothing subtle about Rattle’s approach to proceedings once the main Allegro began and the effect was thrilling.

La Valse by Ravel is ubiquitous in the concert hall and too many outings of this great work are just routine. This is the kiss of death for a work that is, in fact, incredibly hard to bring off. However, Rattle showed us how it should be done in this electric performance. All the elements were balanced to perfection: the ghostly half-lights, the schmaltzy portamentos and the increasing aggressive outbursts. Most impressive was his pacing of these outbursts, so that when the apocalyptic climax arrived, it really did feel like the end of the world.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Orchestra
© LSO | Kevin Leighton

Rattle has long held Sibelius in the highest esteem and understands exactly how to unravel his organic compositions. The Seventh Symphony is the most complex of his symphonic structures, with the composer condensing the usual four movements into a single 20-minute span. In this outstanding performance, the LSO strings demonstrated the rich flexibility of their sound and the brass were ideally balanced with them, never harsh or overbearing. This was a heart-stopping performance of a masterpiece which seems to say more, in its brief appearance, than some composer’s whole output put together.

Bartók wrote his ballet The Miraculous Mandarin shortly after the First World War and its shockingly explicit horror story scenario immediately consigned the work to the concert hall. It was eventually staged many years after the composer’s death, but the Suite has been much performed and for good reason, as it is one of the most spine-tingling orchestral works in the repertoire. Rattle and the LSO held nothing back in their interpretation, the brass here completely overbearing and wildly exciting, while the fiendishly difficult woodwind writing was full of character and confidence. The whole affair was a grizzly knockout, rounding off an evening that belied the implication made by some in the media, that classical music concerts are boring. 

*****