First Night: Simon Rattle / Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Albert Hall, London
A rapturous response to Rattle's return
Saturday 04 September 2010
There wasn't a cough or a rustle as the first notes of Beethoven's Symphony No 4 sounded through the packed and expectant Albert Hall: Britain's favourite musical son was back where he belonged.
Eight years ago Simon Rattle recorded this work with the Wiener Philharmoniker, and the results, though youthfully exuberant, were raw and rough-edged. Now heading the Berliner Philharmoniker, he chose to start this Prom with the same work, and the contrast could not have been greater.
Each movement was now fastidiously shaped. The dark and mysterious introduction was assured; the explosion of high spirits into which it segued was quintessentially Beethovenian. The serenely flowing Adagio had suggestions of unplumbed deeps; the Allegro had bounding energy, but was light on its feet; Rattle extracted maximum expressiveness from the economy of means which the score prescribed.
And so to Mahler's First Symphony. Its evocation of the awakening of spring, with the huge muted chord on strings enriched by distant trumpet fanfares and cuckoo-calls on the flute, was delicately atmospheric: Rattle's construction of this movement's sound-world was leisurely and assured. The Austrian peasant knees-up in the ensuing Scherzo reflected earthy exuberance, while the grave dance which formed its Trio had childlike sweetness.
The third movement's funeral march is this symphony's dark heart. Inspired by an engraving of a huntsman's funeral – where the coffin was carried by woodland animals – it was exquisitely turned. Rattle brought out the sardonic quality lurking in the instruments' successive entrances.
But the long fourth movement presents a perennial problem. This symphony was Mahler's first purely orchestral work: he was just 24 when he wrote it, and went on tinkering with it – later entitling it the "Titan" – for 10 further years. He said it "came gushing out like a mountain torrent", and that's exactly how its closing movement comes across. Rattle brought great tenderness to its romantic melody – which presages the "Death in Venice" movement of the fifth symphony – but neither he nor his wonderful wind players were able to cloak the bombast of the conclusion.
The air-waves are currently full of chat about Mahler's music being "philosophical", and about his Nostradamus-style ability to foretell the political future. This performance was a powerful reminder that his music needs no such factitious crutches: its emotional journey is both its raison d'etre and – defects notwithstanding - its achievement.
Rattle, now 55, is one of the eminences grises of his profession. In a short space of time in the early new year he will be conducting more concerts in London than he has for a long time. Is he thinking of coming home? If the rapturous response of last night's audience is anything to go by, that would be a popular move.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove