Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Festival Hall, London

A quiet, uneasy Rattle tests out his new toy

Terror froze the audience at the Royal Festival Hall last night as Sir Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic's first ever British maestro, brought Anton Bruckner's unfinished Ninth Symphony to its shockingly discordant final climax. Rarely have London audiences heard brass choirs scream with such unchecked aggression, and yet the sound was never crude. It was an auspicious British debut for Rattle and his recently won Berlin Philharmonic.

The concert had opened with music from 30 or so years ago which would have left the hall empty. Arnold Schoenberg's Second String Quartet is not easy music by any means, but in Rattle's hands the composer's own full-string version sounded both mysterious and palatable. Straight away, this was very much Rattle's sound: lean, attenuated, dynamic and with first and second violins sitting opposite each other (too often they are bunched up together). This meant that dialogue between them was very noticeable. The first movement was all earnestness, the second disorientating.

At one point Rattle, his eyes theatrically wide, put his hand to his mouth in a gesture of mock consternation. For the third and last movement the soprano Dawn Upshaw tackled the taxing but lyrical vocal line with just a touch of Broadway cream, not quite what was needed for "air from another planet''. But she sang beautifully. Rattle's direction of this infinitely fascinating music was inspired, the best possible advocacy for music that is still too little known.

The case for Bruckner's Ninth Symphony was more complex. Yes, it shimmered. Yes, the climaxes were overwhelmingly powerful. And yes, this definitely sounded like the Berlin Philharmonic that we all know and love. But there were oddities about Rattle's interpretation. The second movement should like a Neanderthal romp that stamps ferociously, but last night sounded more like angry barking. The evocative middle section is a twilit pastoral but Rattle was so intent on bringing lustre to the string lines that he all but ignored the crucial woodwind birdsong. The performance sounded impressive, but felt slightly uneasy, as if Rattle was still testing his new toy, infatuated with the sounds it could deliver but not quite sure how to use them in this context. The louder sections however were magnificent.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before