Sir Simon Rattle opens his Munich tenure with a radiant rendering of Haydn’s Creation

GermanyGermany Haydn, The Creation (Die Schöpfung): Lucy Crowe (soprano), Benjamin Bruns (tenor), Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Chorus of Bavarian Radio (chorus master: Peter Dijkstra), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle (conductor). Herkulesaal, Munich, 21.9.2023. (ALL)

Sir Simon Rattle © Astrid Ackermann

Finally! For three seasons, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra has been patiently waiting for the Simon Rattle era to begin. Indeed, the very best of conductors did come to Munich to lead them regularly, but it is not the same as having him as their own Music Director who can leave his mark and develop a lasting relationship.

Could there be a more iconic work to kick off with than Haydn’s Creation? Sir Simon Rattle has often spoken about his special relationship with the composer. Performed with a chamber ensemble in baroque style, this is far from what the same musicians previously played under the baton of Leonard Bernstein, spectacular and ‘Straussian’, or the somewhat austere and strict rendition by Bernard Haitink in the same hall, both captured on CD or video.

Rattle’s interpretation was full of joy and life. Lucy Crowe, who previously performed under John Eliot Gardiner as the soloist for the Missa Solemnis, with quite sombre tones, a few years ago, was radiant here, delightfully and mischievously embellishing her arias, especially in the second part. Benjamin Bruns reminded us why he is such a great David in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. Christian Gerhaher delivered a vocal masterclass, making the most of the text and displaying unparalleled technique.

Even though the musicians were playing in the baroque style, this was unmistakably a Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra performance. The strings used little vibrato, and yet the colours and dynamics were expansive. Henrik Wiese played magnificent flute solos. The standard was very high, as the Bavarian Radio Chorus is truly one of the best in Germany and readers should listen here to the rehearsal excerpt where Rattle coaches them on the word ‘Welt’.

Haydn’s The Creation in Munich’s Herkulesaal © Astrid Ackermann

The Herkulesaal was packed for this inaugural concert, with many music enthusiasts waiting outside and hoping someone would sell them a last-minute ticket. All over the city, posters celebrate ‘Sir Simon’s’ celebrity. As the concert was about to begin, there was a reverent silence, but more importantly, all the musicians had a look of satisfaction on their faces, which spoke volumes.

Rattle’s reading of The Creation will be performed three times, including a concert at the Baroque Basilica of Ottobeuren, followed by three concerts featuring a composition by Betsy Jolas and Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, followed by a trip to Paris. Rattle will then participate in the Musica Viva Festival with Luciano Berio’s Coro and a world premiere by Slovenian composer Vito Zuraj, before giving a family concert the next day with excerpts from Debussy’s La Mer and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy.

Consciously or unconsciously, Munich’s musical life has been focusing on the arrival of Sir Simon Rattle. Meanwhile, Munich Philharmonic also awaits its future music director, Lahav Shani, although he will not take up the baton until 2026, while Vladimir Jurowski and the Bavarian State Orchestra are currently wrapping up a European tour. Bavarian State Opera is currently staging a few revivals, with the season’s first new production, of The Marriage of Figaro, scheduled for the end of October.

At the end of the evening, the audience received a small card signed by Simon Rattle, which read, in both English and in German: ‘We can make so much happen here together’. What a way to start!

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer        

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