Berlin Philharmonic/Rattle, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic effectively turned this spectacular concert on its head, beginning with the symphony - Dvorak's 7th - and ending with the mother of all curtain-raising fanfares - Janacek's Sinfonietta. Keeping the Czechs apart was Thomas Adès, whose orchestral behemoth Tevot marked the start of a Barbican retrospective - Traced Overhead - and seemed almost to foreshadow the Janacek, not the other way around.

And it all began in dusky D minor with violas and cellos feeling their way into a crepuscular soundscape suggestive of Wagner. It took a while for this wonderful orchestra to settle into what is surely the greatest of Dvorak's symphonies. But a few frayed and indecisive chords are as nothing when set against a gathering sense of purpose, and Rattle, savouring the eternal phrase lengths, drove the piece towards what is by no means a forgone conclusion.

The playing, once it found its feet, was lustful beyond belief, the strings in particular bringing the music off the page with irresistible panache. I loved, too, the way that Rattle made us so keenly aware of the violas and the part they play in the work's harmonic ambivalence.

There wasn't too much ambivalence of any kind in Tevot. As with Adès' previous orchestral piece Asyla, there was fabulous command of the huge orchestra, magic casements opening on to page after page of auditory fantasy - like the stratospheric violins leaving vapour trails towards the chorale-like peroration, or the barbarous cosmic dance suggesting a Rite of Spring for the techno age. Overscored or not, we could only surrender to the noise it made.

But this is a piece more steeped in the past than the more individual Asyla and, come the final pages, where the configuration of trumpets and strings seem to pre-echo the Janacek, it occurred to me that the Adès could easily have predated it, too.

But then Janacek's trumpet-laden paean (from 1926) might have been written next week. The opening page alone is a sound without precedent, tenor tubas, timpani and bass trumpets hacking a path for the imminent arrival of their nine colleagues impossibly aligned across the back of the orchestra. And what a burnished sound they made, Rattle taking care to terrace the fanfares so that they arrived in waves.

But better yet than the pagan splendour of this performance was its quiet nostalgia. Rattle was not at all shy of it, and for once those romantic home-spun reveries held their own against the foot-stomping, brass crackling, E-flat clarinet squealing, partying. What an earful.

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