Rattle’s Eclectic Programming Puzzles But LSO On Top Form


Lucerne_Festival_Logo Lucerne Festival [4] – Bernstein, Dvořák, Janáček: Krystian Zimerman (piano), London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle (conductor), Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Lucerne (KKL) 11.9.2018. (JR)

Krystian Zimerman (piano), Sir Simon Rattle (conductor) & LSO
(c) Lucerne Festival/Peter Fischli

Bernstein – Symphony No.2, Age of Anxiety
Dvořák Slavonic Dances Op.72
Janáček Sinfonietta

My fellow reviewer Gregor Tassie has already reviewed the identical programme performed by the LSO under Sir Simon Rattle at the Edinburgh Festival (click here) and was as perplexed as I by Rattle’s odd choices.

Rattle wanted to honour the centenary of Bernstein’s birth, and has a clear admiration for his second symphony. The symphony is based on a poem by W.H. Auden, of which the full title is ‘The Age of Anxiety: a baroque eclogue’ (I had to look up the word ‘eclogue’ which was new to me: it is Middle English, meaning ‘a pastoral poem, often in dialogue form’). The symphony, almost a piano concerto, is probably also inspired by the well-known painting by Edward Hopper entitled ‘The Nighthawks’ depicting a group of individuals gathering in a New York Bar, after World War II. In the Auden poem, these characters (three men, one woman) discuss their problems, spend the night in the woman’s flat, and some of them discover faith in the morning. The music has an understandable air of melancholy for long sections and consequently is by no means easy listening. There is some admirable orchestral writing, especially for the clarinets. Rattle wrenched as much emotion as he could from his string section. Surprisingly, the piece has never been performed at the Lucerne Festival and therefore would have been new to many, although there was a performance in Zurich not long ago. The work ends with a lengthy jazzy section in which the pianist has some fun on the keyboard accompanied by a large percussion section. The ending is not bleak; quite the opposite, the almost blazing finale has Mahler at its roots. Before that there are clear echoes of Prokofiev.

Zimerman was one of Bernstein’s pianists of choice for this work, which he clearly holds in some reverence. His technique was never in doubt. After a warm reception, Zimerman – normally a man of few words – gave a fairly impromptu speech; apparently he is prone to such digressions. (Ten years ago he stunned the Los Angeles audience with a tirade of denunciation for US plans to install a missile defence shield in his native homeland, Poland). Zimerman’s speech at this KKL concert was in praise of Bernstein, not only the musician but for his courageous political stance. The speech was hardly audible to most in the hall, but I did hear the word ‘Vietnam’. Obviously the Festival management was not expecting a speech and had not laid on a microphone.

After the interval the mood lightened; we were treated to Czech music, clearly dear to Rattle’s heart (he happens to be married to Czech mezzo, Magdalena Kožená). Dvořák’s second set of Slavonic Dances is more introspective, less ebullient than the first, with a number of wistful dances. The fast and furious dances are often played as encores, so it was good to hear the set as a whole. I would have liked some Eastern European rusticity in the orchestral sound – just listen to the Czech Philharmonic under Karel Ančerl, Václav Talich or Jiří Bělohlávek in the same music. The LSO performance was rather like driving a Range Rover on a country track: too genteel. The orchestra did, of course, play magnificently, to virtual perfection, and the audience lapped it up. I must mention Andrew Marriner’s splendid clarinet contributions; he is still a wonder at close to retiring age, having now been principal clarinet with the LSO for over 30 years.

The real meat of the evening was provided by Janáček’s outstanding masterpiece Sinfonietta. Rattle had his row of nine trumpeters (augmented by the orchestra’s own three trumpeters who remained seated) stand at the back of the orchestra for maximum visual and aural effect. They duly blasted us out of our seats with their brass fanfares that open and close this mini-symphony. The squawking trombones were equally impressive, as was – towards at the end of the work – the fabulous E flat clarinet-playing of Chi-Yu Mo.

The audience was left in no doubt that this partnership of the LSO and Simon Rattle has much to offer audiences in future.

John Rhodes


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews



Season Previews

  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers 29 April – 11 May 2019 in Leicester __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Carnegie Hall 2019-2020 Season Highlights __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera’s 2019 Performances of Stephen Storace’s Gli sposi malcontenti __________________________________
  • NEW! Nevill Holt Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Aldeburgh Festival at the Snape Maltings in June __________________________________
  • NEW! Garsington Opera’s 2019 30th Anniversary Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Venus Unwrapped: Kings Place’s Year-Long Focus on Women Composers __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Buenos Aires in 2019 – Largely Traditional __________________________________
  • NEW! Looking Ahead to the 2019 Lucerne Festivals __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! A New Initiative is Announced Supporting the Development of Female Conductors __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Boito’s Mefistofele on 24 March at the QEH __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ivan Putrov’s Against the Stream Ballet Gala Night on 7 April __________________________________
  • NEW! London To Hear Long-Overdue Revival of Parry’s Oratorio Judith in April __________________________________
  • NEW! Ik zeg: NU: I say now, now … an interview with Richard Causton __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month