Imaginative musical journey with Staatskapelle Berlin and Sir Simon Rattle – Gorgeous Gabrieli and impressive Janáček, with Haydn almost stealing the show

fullsizeoutput_26b5Though Sir Simon Rattle bid his farewell to the Berliner Philharmoniker last June, after a sixteen-year tenure as their chief conductor, he is still very much part of the Berlin music scene. While committed to his new duties as the music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, Rattle is also establishing  closer relationship with the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, and its marvellous house ensemble, the Staatskapelle. 

For this season, Rattle is involved in the new production of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, opening in a couple of weeks time. In addition to the Rameau, performed with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Rattle is also conducting one of Staatskapelle’s subscription programmes, with two performances at the Staatsoper and the Philharmonie, respectively.

Paying homage to the orchestra’s unique history, spanning four and a half centuries, Rattle had devised a fascinatingly imaginative programme, mixing the Janáček Mša glagolskaja (1926-27/1928) with Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzon septimi et octavi toni a 12 (1597) and Haydn’s penultimate Paris Symphony, the Symphony in D, Hob. I: 86 (1786). 

As suggested in the title, the Gabrieli Canzon a 12 is scored for twelve brass players, six trumpets and six trombones, divided into three choirs, dispersed in space. In a church setting, these choirs are to be placed in various galleries thus giving rise to a surround effect par excellence. 

At Staatsoper, the three  brass groups were placed at the stage left, centre and right. Though not surrounding the audience, a most appealing spatial effect was achieved while keeping the synchronization of the ensemble more practical. 

Sounding absolutely gorgeous, the Staatskapelle brass embraced the Gabrielian textures with joy and commitment. Marvellously balanced and paced by Rattle, plunging into the riveting conrapuntal textures of Gabrieli was a profound joy for the Staatskapelle audience.

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There was some unintentional comedy too, as the orchestra entered the stage only to discover that there was a trumpet part missing. Discovered after a brief search, accompanied by a good-humoured applause, the performance was ready to proceed. 

After the intentional and unintentional pleasures of Gabrieli, Haydn Symphony in D followed. Commissioned for Concerts de la Loge Olympique, the symphony was given its Paris premiere in 1787, with an orchestra of fifty string players, quadruple winds and brass, and timpani. 

However, before the Paris premiere, the symphony was performed at Esterházy with Haydn conducting his fabulous Hofkapelle of more chamber-like dimensions. In the spirt of Esterházy, the symphony was performed at Staatsoper with a small string section, without doubling the wind parts. A standard practice today, of course, focusing on the chamber music quality inherent in all Haydn. 

Being a most formidable Haydn advocate, there is always that special tingle in a Rattle performance, and this one was no exception. In fact, it was one of the most riveting performances of a Haydn symphony I’ve encountered. 

The symphony opens with a slow introduction, leading to a sonata-allegro movement with many surprises in terms of harmony, dynamics and texture involved. From the very first bars on, it was evident that this is Haydn true to the bone, with that ever-important earthiness mixed with the unparalleled musical invention. There was a full spectrum of colour in the expressively nuanced performance of the Staatskapelle, with Rattle taking great care of the overall architecture.

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The second movement, a largo bearing, unusually for Haydn, the title of capriccio. Here Haydn makes full use of contrasts in texture, with a most imaginative use of silence. The orchestra and Rattle were ever sensitive to the nuances of the score, providing the audience a marvellous adventure. 

In the menuetto and the contrasting trio, Haydn pays homage to the vernacular origins of the act of dance. With Rattle and the orchestra, a thrilling kaleidoscope of dance moods, from court dances to barn-houses and taverns, unveiled to a stunning effect. The contrast between sublime dance hall elegance and a whirling village scene was joyously articulated, without exaggeration, to a must uplifting effect.

The finale, with its rhythmically intriquig figures of five eight-notes, was as spirited as one could ever imagine, with Rattle and the Staatskapelle musicians living and breathing Haydn’s witty textures with great joy of music-making, present on each and every bar. 

Almost stealing the show with their Haydn, the orchestra and Rattle were met with roaring applause, duly deserved. Hopefully there is more Haydn to come in the future concerts by the Staatskapelle with Rattle. 

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After the intermission, the Staatskapelle returned the stage with full ranks. Joined by Český filharmonický sbor Brno (the Czech Philharmonic Chorus), four amazing soloists, Iwona Sobotka, Anna Lapkovskaja, Simon O’Neill and Jan Martiník as well as the organist Christian Schmitt, the full ensemble was ready for that unique journey known as Mša glagolskaja. 

This setting of the mass text in Church Slavonic is one of those outstanding late works of Leoš Janáček, first performed in 1927. Following the premiere, Janáček thoroughly revised the score of Mša glagolskaja, leading to the final 1928 version, most often heard today. 

In the course of the revision process, Janáček augmented the orchestration, elaborated the structural design and commissioned a new edition of the text, with a more scholarly-critical approach to the archaic Church Slavonic. The final version was published almost two years after Janáček’s death in 1930. 

In the canon of mass settings, the Mša glagolskaja is surely one of the most original takes on the subject. This originality is due not only to the use of Church Slavonic, but also on a deeper musical level involving the highly original motivic and harmonic language, as well as some extraordinarily tricky rhythmic writing, in the manner of Janáček’s late style. 

An orchestral introduction, Úvod, opens the Mša glagolskaja with solemn fanfare-like figures for the brass shining out from the full orchestra. In the Janáčekian vein, there is no development of the musical material in the traditional symphonic sense. Rather, Janáček builds his forms with repeated motives layered upon each other in a rhythmic context of shifting meters. 

The compositional principles employed by Janáček result in a fascinating paradox, with textures embedded with simultaneous simplicity and complexity, making the music both instantly accessible and intriguingly interesting. 

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The chorus and the the wonderful soprano soloist, Iwona Sobotka, enter in Gospodi pomiluj, or Kyrie, to a stunning effect. Even with the archaic text, Janáček’s vocal language remains highly communicative with a full scale of emotions present. 

The Gloria, Slava, is a rousing setting for soprano and tenor soloists chorus orchestra, with shimmering textures. Marvellously sung by Sobotka and Simon O’Neill, with chorus, embracing the ecstatic nobility of Janáček’s writing wholeheartedly with Rattle and the orchestra providing their full support. 

Vĕruju (Credo), opens with a passionate argument from lower strings and bass clarinet, enhanced through repetition. The chorus enter, first in unison, later in counterpoint with the tenor and bass soli. Searching, yearning, questioning, O’Neill, Jan Martiník, the chorus and Staatskapelle took the audience on an unforgettable journey into the questions of not only faith, bur the very nature of our existence.   

In contrast to the struggles of the previous movement, Svet (Sanctus) resides in celestial radiance. Accompanied by the shimmering sounds of harps and celesta, the chorus and the soli, with Anna Lapkovskaja’s sublime alto finally joining, evoke a canvas of otherworldly harmonies, to a stunning effect.   

Still, maybe the most effective of all movements in the Mša glagolskaja is Agneče Božij or Agnus Dei. Following by a sublime orchestral introduction, the chorus enters in an otherworldly pianissimo, leading to an outstanding panorama of tranquillity, fabulously performed by the four soli, choir and orchestra with Rattle. 

In perfect counterpoint to the sublime intensity of the Agneče Božij, the riveting Organ Solo followed. Superbly performed by Christian Schmitt, demonstrating a splendid combination of fierce rhythmic drive and amazingly clear articulation. Similarly, the orchestra and Rattle provided a worthy conclusion with a gripping performance of the intense orchestral Intrada, a sort of Ite missa est bringing the Mša glagolskaja to its impressive ending. 

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Staatskapelle Berlin

Sir Simon Rattle, conductor

 

Iwona Sobotka, soprano

Anna Lapkovskaja, alto

Simon O’Neill, tenor

Jan Martiník, bass

 

Český filharmonický sbor Brno

Petr Fiala, chorus master

 

Christian Schmitt, organ

 

Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon septimi et octavi toni a 12 (1597)

Joseph Haydn: Symphony in D, Hob. I: 86 (1786)

Leoš Janáček: Mša glagolskaja (1926-28/1928)

 

Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Monday 12 November 7.30 pm

c Jari Kallio

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Written on Skin at Elbphilharmonie – Sir George Benjamin conducts a sensational performance of his operatic masterpiece

4B5EA946-9FEC-49A3-B7ED-B8756C043B1ESix years after its premiere at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Sir George Benjamin’s Written on Skin (2012) has become somewhat of a classic within the sphere of contemporary opera. The sublime intensity and detail of Benjamin’s music, arising from the splendidly evocative text of Martin Crimp’s gorgeous libretto, has a marvellously gripping effect upon the listener, on emotional as well as cerebral level. 

Widely performed in opera houses and concert halls, Written on Skin is once again on the road, with the composer conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and an excellent cast, featuring Georgia Jarman, Evan Hughes, Bejun Mehta, Victoria Simmonds and Robert Murray. Performed at Elbphilharmonie on Saturday, the semi-staged production, directed by Benjamin Davis, heads then to Berlin, where it is mounted at the Philharmonie on Monday. 

Following years of futile search for a librettist to collaborate with, Benjamin was about to give up on writing an opera, when he finally met Crimp in 2005. Inspired by each other’s work, the two soon embarked upon a test run with their first joint project, a chamber opera for two singers and ensemble, Into the Little Hill (2006). A masterpiece of its own right, Into the Little Hill goes way beyond a preliminary study for an evening-lenght piece with its fabulous unity of text and music, resulting in a most inspiring variation of music theatre. 

There is that intriguing passion-like character embedded in both Into the Little Hill and Written on Skin. Textwise, this is delivered with sublime finesse by having characters to introduce themselves and occasinally comment their actions, thus providing those key moments for the composer to illustrate the characters in sounding images. 

In addition, three of the five singers double as Chorus of Angles, providing context for the onstage drama and transporting the listener between the present and past. Based on an anonymous 13th century text, Un cœur mangé, Crimp’s libretto provides a fascinating interplay with then and now, thus speaking more directly to the contemporary listener. 

There is indeed a lot of  J. S. Bach in Benjamin’s dramatic music. Not that the two composers sound alike, but the remarkable attention to detail and the ability to convey a vast canvas of emotions within delicately worked out structural framework are akin to both masters. 

Scored for five singers and a chamber orchestra, Written on Skin demonstrates Benjamin’s sounding universe at its richest, most colourful hue. In addition to the vast array of percussion, there are also prominent parts scored for bass viol and glass harmonica, respectively. Yet, for Benjamin, the scoring is always rooted in a more holistic approach to the needs of the drama rather than being reduced to mere effects. 

Set in three parts without intermission, Written on Skin opens with the Chours of Angels reversing time to set the stage for the 13th century events. The three principal characters, Protector, his wife Agnès and the Boy are briefly introduced. The set of events starts to unfold with the Protector commissioning the Boy for an illustrated book portraying the world with he and his family as its centerpiece. 

094F1684-5605-4DB3-A6F6-35834DD857DFThe Protector’s view of the world is that of harsh, medieval Christianity. A world of clear-cut good and evil, obsessed with the concepts of purity and obediance. A world of man and his property, be it land, crop, house or wife. 

Setting forth to illustrate this world, the Boy produces the first drawings for the book. He shows his drawings to curious Agnès, who questions their abilty to portray her world, her reality. As the relationship between Agnès and the Boy intensifies, the projected book becomes a vessel for her emotions and desires, a pathway to her eventual freedom and death. 

Benjamin’s outstanding craft of portraying emotions with a musical language devoid of all clichés, while being instantly communicative, results in marvellous intensity of the drama unfolding. The ever-transforming relationships between the three main characters provide an excellent ground for musical ideas to develop with intriguing ambivalence. 

The seeds of doubt are sewed into the Protetor’s mind as her sister-in-law Marie and her husband John question the motives of the Boy and the purpose of the book, while paying a visit to his house. 

Infuriated by these innuendos, the Protector’s jealous rage is lit by a nightmare, brilliantly set for the Chorus of Angels and the Protector. However, his desire to see the book finished overcomes his rage.

Finally, the Boy presents the finished book to the protector and Agnès. The final page is set not in images, but text, a detailed description of the relationship between Agnès and the Boy. As a result, the Boy is killed by the Protector, with his murderpus act being portrayed by a shattering orchestral climax. 

Seeking his final revenge, the Protector serves the Boy’s heart to Agnès as a dish on a silver plate. Commanding her to eat, he then triumphantly reveals the true origin of the supper. Instead of breaking her spirit, he is defied by Agnès, who is finally able to break free from suppression. 

The opera ends with a vivid tableau sung by the Boy, now in the guise of an Angel, depicting Agnès’ escape via suicide. The image of a her body falling in slow-motion brings Written on Skin to its profoundly moving close. 

The Elbphilharmonie performance was simply sensational. Initially written for Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Benjamin’s score shone with wealth of detail and exceptional intensity in the hands of this marvellous ensemble. With the composer conducting, the music flowed with splendid fluidity, combined with the utmost care for balance and detail. 

9435E177-719A-4715-8BCE-119C474F4BBFJoined with superlative cast of five singers portraying their characters with perfect sensitivity and unparalleled skill, this was a night to remember for the sold-out Elbphilharmonie. Be it the passion of Agnès, the ethereal weightlessness of the Boy, the self-important chastity of the Protector, augmented with a matter-of-factly attitude towards violence, Georgia Jarman, Bejun Mehta and Evan Hughes portrayed their characters with absolutely covincing psychological accuracy.

In their dual-roles as Angels as well as Marie and John, Victoria Simmonds and Robert Murray provided marvellous commentary, both celestial and profane, upon the triangle between the main characters. 

76EC638E-77EF-4A7C-BA97-FE81DA51F037Like Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1902), Written on Skin is ideally suited for a semi-staged performance. With such vivid imagery inherent in both Crimp’s words and Benjamin’s music, stage images are not necessary for conveying the drama. Directed by Benjamin Davis, the sublime stage action was formidably rooted in the music, delicately complementing the vocal and orchestral drama. 

 

Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Sir George Benjamin, conductor

 

Georgia Jarman (Agnès)

Evan Hughes (Protector)

Bejun Mehta (The Boy, Angel 1) 

Victoria Simmonds (Angel 2, Marie)

Robert Murray (Angel 3, John) 

 

Sir George Benjamin: Written on Skin (2012)

 

Martin Crimp, libretto

Benjamin Davis, director

 

Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

Saturday 10 November 2018, 8 pm 

c Jari Kallio

Stupendous all-Berlioz afternoon with ORR & Sir John Eliot Gardiner at the Concertgebouw

ZqKyDVJ1RNu2bze6cTc1qQOn Saturday afternoon, as a part of their ongoing tour in the US and Europe, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the fabulous musicians of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique mustered at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for an all-Berlioz concert. 

Joined by mezzo-soprano Lucille Richardot, the programme included a wonderful selection of Berlioz’ most thrilling pieces covering four decades of the composer’s career.  

Gardiner and the ORR opened their programme with a rousing Berliozian swashbuckle, Le Corsaire Overture (1844/1852). Written during a holiday in Nice and originally called La tour de Nice, Berlioz later associated the music with James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Red Rover (1827) and eventually with Lord Byron’s poem The Corsair (1814), resulting in the final title, Le Corsaire.

The overture, not too often programmed, is an absolute charmer. Predating the spirit of Hollywood Golden Age, there is a delightful family resemblance with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s classic film scores, such as Captain Blood (1935) and The Sea Hawk (1940) inherent in the music. Yet the score is unmistakably Berliozian, with its riveting orchestral colour, upbeat rhythmic dexterity and wonderful transparency. 

The ORR and Gardiner plunged into Berlioz’ dashing orchestral surf with joyous vigour and sweep, setting the overture in an upbeat motion. An orchestral adventure par excellence ensued, embracing the spirit of Berlioz wholeheartedly. A brilliant choice for a concert opener!

A formidable contrast in mood was to follow, as the stage was set for La mort de Cléopâtre (1829), a lyric scene for voice and orchestra. Setting a text by Pierre-Ange Vieillard, Cléopâtre was originally written as a bid for Prix de Rome. 

However, the music was deemed audacious by the jury, and no price was awarded. As a result, La mort de Cléopâtre lingered unperformed for many years. Eventually Berlioz did conduct it in a series of concerts in Germany. Still far away from being a standard repertoire piece, Cléopâtre does get more and more outings nowadays, and rightly so. 

Of Berlioz’ Prix de Rome pieces, La mort de Cléopâtre is the most original in style. It conveys the drama in a most expressive manner, in terms of both vocal and instrumental writing.   

Structurally, La mort de Cléopâtre is divided into four main sections, with recitatives, comprising a twenty-minute standalone scene ideal for concert performance. 

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The performance by Lucille Richardot, the ORR and Gardiner was simply spectacular. Richardot portrayed the text with a brilliantly nuanced sense of drama, while Gardiner and his musicians provided an ideal orchestral context for the vocal line from the very opening bars to the shattering closing, saluting Berlioz’ orchestral effects to the maximum. 

Among this spectacular performance, probably the most distinguished feature was haunting realization of the summoning Méditation, ever etched in memory. 

Closing the first half of the afternoon, selections from Berlioz’ magnum opus, Les Troyens (1856-58), were perfromed, namely the opening pantomime of the fourth act, Chasse Royale et Orage and Didon’s monologue Je vais mourir followed by the air Adieu, fière cité from the fifth act.

Opening as a tranquil pastoral scene with distant horn-calls, Chasse Royale et Orage gradually builds up into a splendid tumult for full orchestra, unleashing a riveting burst of energy, demonstrating Berlioz’ craft for orchestration in its finest form. 

A tailor-made showpiece for the marvellous musicians of the ORR, Chasse Royale et Orage was performed with admirable musicianship under Gardiner’s spirited conducting. Not only did the orchestra convey Berlioz’ intricate web of expressive instrumental parts, for they appeared as the chorus of nymphs, sylvans and fauns as well, contributing the vocal lines as they went, resulting in a performance of irresistible charm. 

More sombre and intimate in mood, Lucille Richardot sung Didon’s farewell Je vais mourir. Adieu, fière cité with heartbreaking resignation, with the orchestra and Gardiner living and breathing with her on every step. 

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After the intermission, Symphonie fantastique (1830) followed. A most quintessentially Berliozian piece for several generations of concert-goers, one can only imagine the scope and effect of this outlandish music upon its premiere in Paris Conservatoire in December 1830. Even now, nearly two centuries later, the Symphonie fantastique continues to charm and amaze with its bold instrumental drama, filled with passion, beauty and downright horror.

With Symphonie fantastique, Berlioz was treading a new territory of a dramatic symphony, where the orchestra is transformed into a vehicle of music theatre within a framework of symphonic structure. Of course, the concept did not fall from the Moon. For more than twenty years before, Beethoven had adopted an extra-musical narrative for his Pastoral Symphony (1808), thus leaving the gate open for Berlioz to enter.

And, more broadly speaking, in music, the line between the abstract and the dramatic is a fine one. A lot of Haydn symphonies evoke extra-musical connotations, as do, of course, the symphonies of Mahler and Shostakovich, be there a reference to narrative or not. And if one looks at the scores of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony and Tapiola, it becomes evident that the distinction between a symphony and a tone poem is not clear-cut. 

Yet, following the footsteps of the Pastoral Symphony, Berlioz took the idea of a dramatic symphony to the next level with Symphonie fantastique, harnessing his orchestra to depict a sequence of events with an utmost sense for the needs of both the drama and the symphony. 

So fruitful was this new concept, that Berlioz went on to write two more symphonies in similar vein, namely Harold en Italie (1834) and Roméo et Juliette (1839). After Berlioz, the idea of a symphony as narrative has resurfaced in symphonic pieces like The Age of Anxiety (1947-49/1965) by Leondard Bernstein and Scheherazade.2 (2014) by John Adams.

As it is well-known, Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, subtitled Épisode de la vie d’un Artiste, depicts yearning and ill-fated infatuation leading to an opium-induced phantasmagoria including an execution and a witches’ sabbath. 

The symphony is in five movements linked together by an idée fixe, a recurring motive portraying the Artist’s fixation to his object of love. The motive itself has its roots in one of Berlioz’ Prix de Rome pieces, Herminie (1828). 

Alongside the idée fixe, there are also other quotes for earlier works. The main melody of the third movement, Scène aux Champs, was originally written for Gratias agimus tibi of the Messe Solennelle (1824) and the entire fourth movement, Marche au Supplice, was based on Marche des Gardes from Berlioz’ abandoned early opera Les francs-juges (1826), with revised ending. 

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The first movement, Réveries – Passions, although built upon a traditional sonata form, embodies radical harmonic language reaching far into remote keys, clad in a most imaginative and transparent orchestration. This transparency, alongside a formidable attention to continuity, was wonderfully achieved by Gardiner and the ORR. 

In the second movement, Un bal, the orchestra is transformed into a jubilant dance hall, with a glimmering aura by no less than four harps (minimum) called for in the score. With its marvelous hapists, the ORR embraced the waltzing whirlwind of the music with a dreamlike, addictive sweep.

The turning point of the drama of the symphony, Scène aux Champs, opens with a pastoral duet between the cor anglais and an offstage oboe, shoruded in the mist of tremolos by the divas violas. As the movement proceeds, melancholy and solitude take an ever tighter grip on the music. On the final pages the calls of the lonely cor anglais are now answered by the ominous distant thunder of four timpanists. 

The veritable masters of suspense, Gardiner and his orchestra conveyed the bleak turn of the tide with masterful subtleness. Full of amazing instrumental detail, the third movement was absolutely breathtaking. 

In the two opium-induced movements closing the symphony, Berlioz breaks free from all boundaries with a nightmare sequence paralleled only by the Pandaemonium of his dramatic legend La damnation de Faust (1845-46). The fourth movement, Marche au Supplice is set in motion with sextuplets from two timpanists, answered by horns and bassoons. 

As the movement proceeds, the mocking bassoons alongside a full brass section with cornets and ophicleides give rise to a grotesque march, leading to the scaffold. Uttered by solo clarinet, the idée fixe makes its brief appearance, followed by an immense tutti chord and a three note pizzicato, a hammer fall and the thuds of a severed head. The movement ends with a series of chords for full orchestra, as if a cheering crowd. 

This gruesome music was portrayed with an impressive grotesqueness and menace by Gardiner and the ORR. A relentless drive towards the inevitable doom, the orchestra was again fully immersed in the drama, even providing some ad lib. cheers at the closing page. 

In the last movement, Songe d’une nuit de Sabbat, an unhinged nightmare sequence with strings surging into devilish pizzicati and ophicleides uttering a most gruesome account of the Dies irae plainchant, accompanied by somber bells. The music climaxes with a grotesque dance, Ronde de Sabbat with the Dies irae in counterpoint. 

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With the superb performance of ORR and Gardiner, the full expressive power of the music was unleashed, leading the Symphonie fantastique to its spectacular conclusion. A stupendous concert experience from start to finish, the afternoon concluded with a standing ovation accompanied by roaring applause.   

 

Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Lucille Richardot, mezzo-soprano

 

Hector Berlioz: Ouverture Le Corsaire, Op. 21 (1844/1852)

Hector Berlioz: La mort de Cléopâtre. Scène lyrique (1829)

Hector Berlioz: Chasse Royale et Orage from Les Troyens (1856-58)

Hector Berlioz: Je vais mourir. Adieu, fière cité from Les Troyens (1856-58)

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (1830)

 

NTR Zaterdag Matinee, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

Sat. 20 October, 2.15 pm

c Jari Kallio

Absolutely spot-on Rite of Spring with Susanna Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic

fullsizeoutput_25aeTogether with their chief conductor Susanna Mälkki, the musicians of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra were on the top of their game at the Helsinki Music Centre on Wednesday with a superb performance of Igor Stravinsky’s riotous masterpiece, The Rite of Spring (1911-13/1947).

Over a hundred years after its premiere at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Rite still provides a formidable challenge for orchestras and conductors, although nowadays it is possible to mount a performance within a more or less standard rehearsal time. Still, due to its many challenges, no performance of the Rite cannot be taken for granted.

Yet, it is precisely these challenges that make the piece endlessly fascinating. Within its strange harmonies, quirky rhythms and most unusual orchestration, opens an unparalleled world of eerie enchantment. 

Even though the genesis of The Rite of Spring owes to a ballet commission by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, Stravinsky’s score soon became a staple of the concert hall repertoire too. As a concert piece, it was widely embraced by postwar modernism, with Pierre Boulez at the forefront, as a herald of a new era in music.

Gradually, the Rite was regarded more and more as an abstract piece, to the extent that even Stravinsky himself began to embrace an this alternative storyline, claiming that the piece was originally conceived as pure music and only later adapted for the ballet commission. Upon critical research, no evidence supporting this version of the story has been found. 

Neither was the elderly Stravinsky keen to point out the multiple connections between the melodic material of the Rite and various folk music sources. This task was largely left to Richard Taruskin, who studies the subject extensively in his biography on Stravinsky. 

To what extent does all this matter in the context of the sounding reality of a performance? As a result, there seems to be, roughly speaking, two primary lines of interpretation for The Rite of Spring, one focusing on the music as a revolutionary, standalone piece for the concert hall, and the other drawing from its origins as a part of the tradition of the Russian ballet, rooted deep in folklore. 

In addition to these two performance traditions, a third line is sometimes seen to have arisen with Leopold Stokowski’s adaptation for Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940), resulting in an American showpiece take on the Rite. 

The world of performing arts is, of course, more sophisticated matter than these simplified distinctions assume, but they provide some kind of starting point for a reviewer. Examined within this scheme, the Mälkki and Helsinki Philharmonic performance of the Rite was best associated with the modernist tradition.

Seldom does one encounter more transparent, detailed and logically conceived realization of the The Rite of Spring at the concert hall. A dazzling orchestra panorama was set in motion by the opening bassoon solo, with exquisite rhythmic control and admirable attention to detail. 

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Each sequence was given a character of its own, within the logical continuity of the whole. There were sonic virtues beyond count, probably the most memorable being the night-music of the introduction to the second part, with its multiple layered keys, resulting in a marvellously ambiguous harmonic sphere. From these orchestral chords, a tension unfolded, yielding all the way to the final chord of the Dance sacrale.   

The ingenious wind and brass parts, often imitating peasant choruses, were lively articulated with splendid purity, whereas the strings worked their way through the various tricky dance rhythms with all colours hoisted, and the six percussionists were relentless champions of the brilliant complexities of Stravinsky’s opulent score.    

In addition, special thanks are to be addressed to the horn section, tackling Stravinsky’s demanding horn and Wagner tuba parts with their ever-formidable musicianship. 

All in all, Mälkki and the orchestra provided the audience with a most uplifting performance of The Rite of Spring, especially if one is into an analytical approach of the score. Someone more focused on the age-old myths of horror and eroticism of the original ballet, might have found the performance lacking some edge and ecstasy. This, however, is largely up to the taste and preference of the listener. 

As such, the performance by Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic was absolutely spot on, and will be counted as one of the highlights of the Mälkki era, which will hopefully be a long one. 

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On the first half of the evening, Segrei Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante for cello and orchestra (1950-52) was heard. Dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, this hybrid of a symphony and a concerto was one of the last pieces completed by the composer before his death on the following year. 

The Sinfonia concertante is based on an earlier Cello Concerto written in the 30s. After a disastrous premiere, Prokofiev put the concerto aside for a decade. It was not until Prokofiev heard Rostropovich perform the concerto in 1947, when his interest in the piece was rekindled, resulting in a throughout revision of the piece. The new version was eventually given a new opus number, bearing a title of Symphony-Concerto, or Sinfonia concertante. 

The first performance of the new version took place in February 1952, with Rostropovich as soloist. For cellists, the forty-minute piece provides quite a challenge, although a rewarding one. Hardly an instant crowd-pleaser, the Sinfonia concertante is, somewhat unjustly, still relatively rarely programmed. 

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However, there are many virtues to be found within the Symphony-Concerto. Gladly, Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic, joined by the Hungarian cellist Istán Várdai had decided to program the piece alongside The Rite of Spring. In addition to this week’s performances, the piece will heard again later this month by Mälkki and the orchestra as a part of the finals of the International Paulo Cello Competition.

The performance at Helsinki Music Centre was clear-cut, well-balanced and thoughtfully paced. A bit too well-mannered, maybe, downplaying Prokofiev’s witty irony, somewhat. Still, a much-preferred programming choice, given the surprisingly narrow standard repertoire for the cello. 

Várdai’s encore was delightfully surprising too, as he returned to the stage to perform Giovanni Solima’s Igiul with the Helsinki Philharmonic cello section. This five-minute meditation for cello ensemble had little in common with the rest of the programme, but still, a most refreshing choice.     

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

Susanna Mälkki, conductor

István Várdai, cello

 

Sergei Prokofiev: Sinfonia concertante (Symphony-Concerto) in E minor, Op. 125a for cello and orchestra (1950-52)

Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (1911-13, revised 1947)

 

Music Centre (Musiikkitalo), Helsinki, Finland

Wednesday 10 October, 7 pm

c Jari Kallio

A splendid journey through Janáček, Szymanowski and Sibelius with Janine Jansen, the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle

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A most fascinating early 20th century programme was presented by the London Symphony Orchestra with their music director Sir Simon Rattle on Thursday evening at the Barbican Centre. 

Three composers, Leoš Janáček, Karol Szymanowski and Jean Sibelius, each nothing less than a national icon, were featured, with three riveting works, all written within a decade from each other. 

In addition to their chronology, there are ever so intersing links to be found between the three works performed. Although quite different from each other on the surface, Janáček’s Sinfonietta (1926), Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (1916) and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 (1915-19) all venture into the outskirts of tonality, with harmonic language uprooted in East European folk tradition as well as the increasingly chromatic zeitgeist of the era. 

Janáček’s Sinfonietta belongs to that marvelous family of late works, considered by many as the most inspiring ones the composer ever wrote. Janáček composed relatively few orchestra works, among which the Sinfonietta is his most symphonic one. 

Originally titled as a Military Sinfonietta, the piece was written in 1926 within less than three weeks as a result of a creative burst originated in a commission to write fanfares for the Sokol Festival. 

Although the festival fanfares themselves did not become a part of the Sinfonietta, they led Janáček to sketch some new ones on the very same score sheets. These were the basis of the first movement, scored for brass and percussion alone. 

Throughout the Sinfonietta, Janáček uses a brass band of nine trumpets, two tenor horns and two bass trombones to augment a large symphony orchestra. In this respect, the title refers not to the size of orchestral forces embodied, but rather to the light and festive spirit of the Sinfonietta. 

Cast in five movements, there is a vague program by Janáček linking each movement to a specific time and place in the Czech history. This program, however, seems to be devised after the actual composition of the Sinfonietta, for the premiere performance in Prague.

Following the opening fanfare, a more lyrical second movement ensues. The third movement, in its turn, contrasts soft string passages with prominent brass writing. There is a sense of drama involved, as the music gains momentum.

The spirited fourth movement paves the way for a celebratory finale, which comes back to the musical material of the opening. With recurring fanfares the Sinfonietta is brought to its jubilant closure. 

Typically for Janáček, each movement is worked out of brief motives, through repetition and abrupt contrasts. There is no development in the traditional sense. Rather, there are contrasting textures and rhythmic figures creating the necessary drama and tension. 

Within the Janáček realm, Rattle and the LSO embraced the crisp harmonies, sharp rhythms and motivic organization with an idiomatic touch and spirit, resulting in a most uplifting performance. 

Karol Szymanowski wrote his Violin Concerto No. 1 while visiting Ukraine in 1916. The concerto is scored for large orchestra with triple winds, two keyboards (a piano and a celesta), two harps and a variety of percussion. Written in one continuous, twenty-five-minute movement, the concerto shuns traditional forms, favoring a more fantasy-like approach.

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In the lack of a better word, the concerto may be superficially described as impressionistic, with its veiled harmonic colours and detailed orchestration. For Szymanowski, the concerto was essentially a symphonic work with solo violin. A concept he went to study further with his Fourth Symphony (1932) for piano and orchestra.

The concerto opens with a piano and woodwind figure, accompanied by tremolo strings. Developed by the full orchestra, the introduction paves way for the first entry of the solo violin. Soaring in its high registers, the violin starts its journey through the dream-like orchestral soundscape. 

With the opening motive recurring, the concerto travels through a thrilling sequence of harmonies and orchestral textures before arriving on a fascinating cadenza, written by Szymanowski’s friend and compatriot, the violinist Paul Kochanski.    

The cadenza leads to a concluding allegro passage, where the music gradually dissolves back into the silence whence it first emerged. 

Joined by the marvellous Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, the LSO gave a spectacular performance of the Szymanowski concerto under Rattle. There was a wealth of orchestral detail within a most elaborate sense of continuity of form. The full dynamic scale was embraced with utmost expression.

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Jansen’s performance of the solo part was absolutely admirable, in perfect accord with the subtle emotional and textural nuances inherent in the music. Excellently balanced by Rattle, the orchestra was an ideal partner to Jansen. A fabulous performance of one of the greatest violin concertos of the first part of the 20th century.   

Sibelius completed the first version of his Fifth Symphony in the fall of 1915 for his 50th birthday celebrations with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Yet, in its original version, the symphony was very different from the final one we’ve all come to know and love. 

In its original guise, the symphony was in four separate movements, with austere textures and quirky harmonies bearing close relationship to the Fourth Symphony (1910-11). Even though the premiere performance was enthusiastically received, Sibelius was unsatisfied with the work, and embarked upon a four-year process of revisions. 

The second version was premiered the following year in Turku. Not much is known of this intermediate version, since only a double bass part survives. However, it can be deduced, that the unique fusion of opening movement and scherzo was already conceived for the 1916 version.

Still, it took Sibelius another three years before the Fifth Symphony was in its finished form. In the meantime, his native Finland had gone through a tumultuous period of gaining independence from Soviet Russia followed by a brief, but gruesome civil war.

In November 1919, the final version of the Fifth Symphony was premiered in Helsinki, with Sibelius conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic. In the course of the revision process, the symphony had grown more organic in its development of thematic material, resulting in a revolutionary concept of form and texture.

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The symphony opens with a horn call over a timpani roll, answered by a three-note flute melody. From this most concentrated musical material, Sibelius starts to build his vast symphonic arc for the movement. Along the way, the woodwind lines grow gradually more more and more complex. The strings play prolonged tremolo passages with sublime tempo modulations. The textures are often sparse, demanding crystal-clear clarity of articulation. 

Gradually, the musical tension becomes more and more intense, until the opening motive bursts out in its cathartic splendour. Yet, this is not the end, but a bridge, magically transforming the movement into a vigorous scherzo.

The intense scherzo, with its delicately scored passages for winds and strings builds ever towards its final climax with brass and timpani punctuating the string and wind textures, bringing the movement to its breathtaking conclusion. 

The sonic architecture of the opening movement was beautifully shaped by Rattle, with each detail perfectly realized by the orchestra. As seasoned Sibelians, the LSO players grasped the unique idiom of the Fifth Symphony with complete understanding of form and detail, resulting in one of the most intense and beautiful accounts of the opening movement I’ve ever encountered. 

The second movement, andante mosso, quasi allegretto, is a fascinatingly Haydnesque affair, a genuine Andante, with light, transparent textures throughout. Yet, it is no mere interlude, as there is a splendid interplay of shade and light, within a perfectly shaped form. 

Again, the LSO and Rattle were absolutely spot on with their choices of tempi and impeccable sense of balance. This was Sibelius in its purest form. 

The Finale opens with a prolonged introduction full of fast writing for strings and winds. Finally the horns bring forth the rocking theme, joined by woodwinds with their counter-melody, an unsurpassed moment of sublime majesty in all music.

Contrasting middle section follows, with its brilliant development of the musical material. Again, the music starts to build upon a climax. The horn theme returns, and the music resolves into an impassioned statement for full orchestra, culminating into six isolated tutti chords, bringing the symphony into its majestic end. 

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The Finale was an excellent showcase for the LSO. With admirable dexterity, rhythmic accuracy and sonic purity, they made Sibelius proud. Again, Rattle had a perfect sense of pacing and balancing the music in order to make the harmonies and textures really stand out with their full inventive genius. A splendid ending for a riveting evening at the Barbican.     

  

London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle, conductor

Janine Jansen, violin

 

Leoš Janáček: Sinfonietta (1926)

Karol Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 (1916)

Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 in E flat Major, Op. 82 (1915-19)

 

Barbican Centre, London

Wednesday 19 Septemper, 7.30 pm

 

c Jari Kallio

Shattering Verdi Requiem with Gardiner and the Monteverdis at Westminster Cathedral

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How to describe the Verdi Requiem? Since its premiere in San Marco, Milan, in May 1874, it has become one of the most beloved settings of the Missa pro defunctis, widely heard in concerts as well as on film trailers and car advertisments. 

In addition, over time, the influences of the Verdi masterpiece have appeared on a plethora of works by other composers, including Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem (1961-62) and Philip Glass’ The Voyage (1992).

Yet, no matter how familiar one is with the Requiem, it never fails to impress with its sheer emotional intensity and unhinged musical invention. 

The roots of the Messa da Requiem can be traced back to 1869, when Verdi first set out his plans for Messa per Rossini, a memorial piece for its namesake who had passed away in the previous year. Although the project eventually did not materialize, Verdi did finish the Libera me, which later became incorporated into the Messa da Requiem.

Finally, it was the death of the Italian writer and poet Alessandro Manzoni, that provided the impetus for Verdi to finish his take on the Mass of the Dead in 1873-74. After conducting the premiere performances in Milan, and a subsequent series of concerts in Paris, Verdi revised the Liber scriptus section. The first performance of Messa da Requiem in its final form took place at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1875. 

The Verdi Requiem bears a family resemblance with Berlioz’ Grande Messe des Morts (1837) and Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem (1865-68). In its quasi-operatic expressiveness, Messa da Requiem reaches far beyond church liturgy in its search to deal with the brutal, unfair majesty of death itself. 

Gathered at Westminster Cathedral on Tuesday, the massed forces of Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi ensembles, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir, joined by an exquisite line-up of soloists, Corinne Winters, Ann Hallenberg, Edgaras Montvidas and Gianluca Buratto, were set to plunge into the realm of the Verdi Requiem with a most personal note. 

Dedicated to the memory of the Monteverdi stage manager for fifteen years, Richard Fitzgerald, who passed away from cancer in 2016, the concert was organized to provide support for the Cancer Research UK. Following the Westminster Cathedral performance, the Requiem will be toured throughout Europe, concluding in Amsterdam in November. 

Quiet, whisper-like utterances of Requiem aeternam from the chorus set first movement in motion. Accompanied by the shimmering strings of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, the ravishing voices of the Monteverdi Choir set out for a spellbinding venture into the Verdi choral tableau, performing with such profound unity under Gardiner’s direction only years of collaboration can bring forth.  

The four soli first join in the Kyrie, resulting in an intricate contrapuntal web with the chorus and the orchestra. From their first entry on, the solo quartet sang as an perfect ensemble, with admirable care of the delicate nuances of Verdi’s setting of the text. 

One of the most spectacular moments in all music, all hell is, literally, broken loose in the Dies irae with heavy accents from the bass drum and the full blast from the chorus. Lauching the Sequentia, the description of the Judgment Day, Verdi sets out for a passionate dramatic scena, unparalleled in the Requiem tradition. 

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The spatial possibilities of the venue were well used by Gardiner, with offstage trumpets sounding their majestic calls of judgment from the galleries and Gianluca Burratto uttering Tuba mirum, with exquisite menace, from the pulpit. 

Over the course of the Sequentia, there are achingly beautiful parts written for all the soli, contrasted by shattering restatements of the Dies irae by the chorus. In all, Gardiner and his ensemble provided an absolutely overwhelming account of the Last Judgment. 

The Offertorium, set for soloists and orchestra alone, is an extended arc containing probably the most introverted moments of the Verdi score. The music harks back to the opening in its search of deliverance. The soloists lived the music to the fullest, be it intense or sublime, and the orchestra, with Gardiner’s excellent balancing, provided an ideal ground for the singers. 

Verdi’s unique take on the Sanctus was admirably deliverd by the Monteverdi choir with the ORR brass resounding ever so celestial. Engulfed in a wash of sound, the cathedral was wonderfully clad in celestial harmonies.

The radiant passages for soprano and alto soloists, stunningly sung by Winters and Hallenberg, form a highlight for the Agnus Dei, alongside the riveting choral parts. Lux aeterna for soloists and orchestra ensues, clad in awe of the eternal light, leading into the reappearance of Requiem aeternam.

The concluding Libera me results in a passionate climax for the Requiem, as the quest for deliverance reaches its final clash with the Dies irae, an eruption of sound stupendously performed by the ORR and Monteverdis with Gardiner. 

Finally the music reaches a resolution with the soprano and the chorus landing on their final deliverance of the Libera me. The music fades into silence with a deeply moving effect. 

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A superb performance on all accounts, merging riveting period sonorities of the ORR and the outstanding vocal virtues of the soli and the chorus together into one shattering performance, forever etched into memory of those present. 

 

Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique

Monteverdi Choir

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

 

Corinne Winters, soprano

Ann Hallenberg, mezzo soprano

Edgaras Montvidas, tenor

Gianluca Buratto, bass

 

Giuseppe Verdi: Messa da Requiem (1869-75)

 

Westminster Cathedral, London

Tuesday 18 September, 7.30 pm

 

c Jari Kallio

An exhilarating season opening with the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican

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On Sunday evening at the Barbican, London Symphony Orchestra embarked upon the second season with their music director Sir Simon Rattle. Although not surrounded by quite the same media buzz as with Rattle’s arrival last year, on a purely musical level, the season opening was an equally inspiring, coherent and uplifting event. 

The opening night provided a riveting surge into the realm of British music in the 20th & 21st centuries. Not only there was a premiere of a new fanfare by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and a stunning performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 1993-94 dark masterpiece, Dispelling the Fears, but also those ever-important revisits to rarely programmed gems, namely Gustav Holst’s Egdon Heath (1927) and Benjamin Britten’s Spring Symphony (1948-49).

Dedicated to Rattle, the new Birtwistle piece, Donum Simoni MMXVIII (A Gift for Simon, 2018) is a perfectly crafted three-minute journey scored for winds, brass and percussion. 

The music begins with a dark motto, so to speak, emerging from the low registers of the tuba and the trombones. The winds, horns and trumpets join, as the fanfare heads up for brighter textures. As ever with Birtwistle, while shunned with repetition per se, there are recurring musical ideas, most delicately varied and developed. 

New processes are set in motion, as the three percussionists enter, playing woodblocks, tom-toms, cowbells and later, tubular bells. Fascinating interplay of instrumental groups, timbres and dynamics ensues, providing the listener with a riveting adventure.

On the last pages of the score, immense chords ring out from the tubular bells, echoed by the wind and brass ensemble. With each chord, there is a diminuendo, with the textures reduced gradually back to the low brass of the opening. The piece ends with a marvellously bleak four-note tuba cadenza. 

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Gloriously performed by the members of the LSO with Rattle, Donum Simoni MMXVIII was given one amazing first performance. Wonderfully prepared with the composer, there was a stunning attention to detail, be it dynamics, phrasing or rhythmic fluidity and precision. 

Composed in 1927, Holst’s tone poem Egdon Heath is one of his most perfect achiements. Never really a crowd-pleaser, Egdon Heath is scored for a large orchestra, with the percussion absent, interstingly. The orchestration enables Holst to evoke a sublimely rich, cloud-like harmonic palette to accompany his melodic invention.

Dark textures prevail at the opening pages of Egdon Heath, within the wonderful cello and double bass parts. These peculiarily dark passages are contrasted with achingly beautiful lines for the upper strings and winds. Echoes of folk music and chorale melodies appear, alternating with darker undercurrents. This is music of landscapes, not so much geographical, but emotional. 

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With Rattle, the LSO embraced Egdon Heath with sheer sonic virtuosity, ever observing those sublime changes in mood and character, as well as reacting to the more abrupt twists and turns of the musical material with admirable vigour and precision. An unforgettable performance, hopefully paving the way for Egdon Heath’s belated entry to the repertoire. 

Concluding the first half, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s impressive, dark panorama of Dispelling the Fears was heard with Philip Cobb and Gábor Tarkövi, the principal trumpets of the LSO and the Berliner Philharmoniker, respectively, as soloists. 

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Inspired by the Heather Betts’ painting of the same name, Dispelling the Fears is a gripping nocturnal journey with an immense emotional scope from raw aggression to ethereal calm, all clad in a most imaginative and honest musical guise. 

Dispelling the Fears opens with a bleak chord from the two cor anglais, muted trombones harp, piano and the lower strings, punctuated by the bass drum. Grunts from a large lion’s roar ignite a powerful burst of sonic aggression from the full orchestra, leading to the gripping first entry of the trumpet soli. 

The solo parts engage in a riveting interplay with each other within the menacing orchestral textures. The music yearns for resolution, while the two soloists circle around each other in a cascade of staggering musical invention. 

Gradually, more tranquil passages emerge, as if rays of light piercing through the musical darkness. Yet, there is a recurring pull towards a more bleak musical landscape. Within this melodic and harmonic maze, there are those ravishing moments when the solo parts land on a common ground.

There is an enormous tension throughout the course of the piece, commanding the listener’s full attention. On the final pages, following an impressive grand pause, a brief coda resumes. Punctuated by immense pizzicati from the celli and the double basses, the solo trumpets, winds and violas sound their final chord, bringing the music to its final rest. 

A superb take on the Turnage masterpiece, with Cobb and Tarkövi mastering the wonderfully tricky solo parts with impressive skill and concentration. Respectively, the LSO gave a marvellous performance of the orchestral part with all its colours and harmonic shades rivetingly carried out. Carefully balanced by Rattle with an ever-keen eye on the overall form, the performance did full justice to Turnage’s powerful musical vision. 

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On the second half of the fabulous opening programne, Benjamin Britten’s brilliant Spring Symphony (1948-49) was heard. Scored for a large orchestra and a full chorus, with three soli and a children’s chorus, the Spring Symphony is cast in four movements, subdivided to twelve settings in total. 

Commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky, Spring Symphony is one of the most marvellous pieces by the young Britten. Still, it is quite rarely programmed, thus making the LSO performance ever more of an event. 

Spring Symphony opens with Shine Out, an enthrallingly bleak description of a dead winter with its yearning for a redemption with a light reborn. Set for full chorus and orchestra, Shine Out is indeed one of the finest settings within the symphony. 

Under Rattle, the orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus embraced the hollow textures of Britten’s midwinter tableau with commanding intensity, echoing the icy desolate of a vast darkness with huge intensity.

Followed by The Merry Cuckoo, a charmingly bright and uplifting setting for tenor and trumpets, there is an abrupt change of mood. Rivetingly performed by tenor Allan Clayton and the LSO trumpets, The Merry Cuckoo was one of the absolute highlights of the performance. 

Playful Spring, the Sweet Spring calls for all three soloists and the mixed chorus. In the midst of this joyous setting there are absolutely adorable birdsong cadenzas for the three soli. The children’s chorus, in its turn, makes its first entry with the idyllic The Driving Boy. Enchantingly performed by the Tiffin choruses, The Driving Boy was an instant charmer.

The first movement concludes with a radiant chorale for brass and chorus, The Morning Star. A beautiful performance by the London Symphony Chorus and the LSO Brass, The Morning Star was well-etched to memory. 

The slow movement contains three solo numbers for alto and tenor, Welcome, Maids of Honour, Waters Above and a gripping Auden setting, Out on the Lawn I Lie in Bed. Marvellously sung by Alice Coote and Allan Clayton, the second movement provided the gravitational centre for the Spring Symphony.

Throughout, Rattle and the LSO accompanied their soloists with delicate balance and close attention to the nuances of the text and vocal lines. 

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The scherzo, put together of When Will My May Come, Fair and Fair and Sound the Flute, ensues. Again, one could but marvel the vocal dexterity of Clayton’s ever-sensitive tenor. His biting duet with Elizabeth Watts was a pure joy. The brief celebration for both choruses, Sound the Flute, served as a happy transition to the flamboyant Finale.

In the Finale, Britten summons all his forces together to celebrate the arrival of summer in a surreal merry-making. Announed by the tenor, acting as Maylord and accompanied by the cowhorn calls from the balcony, the Finale lauches into a fabulous spring feast reaching its climax with the children’s chorus chanting Sumer is icumen in in counterpoint to the round dance of the mixed chorus. 

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With an appropriately over-the-top performance of the Finale, the evening was brought to its joyous end. A splendidly exhilarating opening for the second season of the fascinating Rattle/LSO journey. 

 

London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle, conductor 

 

Philip Cobb, trumpet

Gábor Tarkövi, trumpet

Elizabeth Watts, soprano

Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano

Allan Clayton, tenor

London Symphony Chorus

Simon Halsey, chorus director

Tiffin Boys’ Choir

Tiffin Children’s Chorus

The Tiffin Girls’ School Choir

James Day, chorus director

 

Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Donum Simoni MMXVIII (2018, world premiere)

Gustav Holst: Egdon Heath, Op. 47 (1927)

Mark-Anthony Turnage: Dispelling the Fears (1993-94)

Benjamin Britten: Spring Symphony, Op. 44 (1948-49) 

 

Barbican Centre, London 

Sunday 16 September, 7 pm

 

c Jari Kallio