Prom 64, review: Simon Rattle's Berliner Philharmoniker on world-beating form

While a fascinating Birtwistle matinee was to be had at Cadogan Hall

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The Independent Culture

Prom 64 was our annual reminder that there really is no orchestra to compare with Simon Rattle’s Berliner Philharmoniker.

After delivering Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances with dark, muscular power, they presented Stravinsky’s The Firebird in a performance of such exquisitely-controlled perfection that that intricately-jewelled work seemed to float in air.

Woven into one single voice, this was at the same time very much an orchestra of soloists, and not only thanks to impeccable solo performances on bassoon, violin, clarinet, and flute; I have never heard the tutti sound more pellucid, nor the pianissimi so far to the edge of audibility; the encore – the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon – had a silvered expressiveness.

After complimenting the audience for being ‘like no other’ – and how the Prommers would love to reclaim him as their own – Rattle clambered through the orchestral ranks to shake hands with his soloists: another nice gesture.

As Oliver Knussen observes in Fiona Maddocks’s deftly illuminating new book Harrison Birtwistle, even a tiny piece like Dinah and Nick’s Love Song, written on a single sheet of paper, ‘casts a spell out of all proportion to its dimensions’.

And so it did when he conducted it plus two other Birtwistle classics, with contralto Hilary Summers, Exaudi, and the Birmingham Contemporary Music group. This made a fascinating hour.