Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle at Carnegie Hall – Hindemith, Zemlinsky & Mahler

Ragtime (Well-Tempered)

Symphonische Gesänge, Op.20

Symphony No.6 in A-minor

Lester Lynch (baritone)

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 2 May, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Five years on, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall now with its new Chief Conductor.

In line with the ‘Fall of the Weimar Republic: Dancing on the Precipice’, the concert opened with two representative works. First up, Paul Hindemith’s satirical Ragtime (Well-Tempered), which cleverly combines the theme from J. S. Bach’s C-minor fugue from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier with sassy rhythms and dissonant harmonies. A lively performance of the fun-loving score served as a light-hearted overture.

Alexander Zemlinsky’s Symphonische Gesänge sets seven German versions of poems by writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance: Langstone Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and Frank Smith Home, with racially charged lyrics. Lester Lynch combined his charismatic presence and commanding baritone to dispatch emotionally resonant renditions of the vivid, highly contrasting pieces, conveying all the resignation and resentment in the texts,  while Rattle and the Bavarians made the perfect partners with their restrained, yet highly atmospheric accompaniment.

An urgent account of Mahler Six included an Allegro energico first-movement with implacable force and forward momentum building to near-frenzy. The ensuing Andante moderato was tenderly rendered, and the alternately menacing and elegant Scherzo was colored by a fair amount of delicacy and wit, with fine contributions from horn, bass clarinet and English horn, the strings displaying splendid intonation. Launching into the lengthy Finale without pause, Rattle shaped the buildup to suggest the possibility of a positive resolution of the many conflicting ideas. The offstage location of the cowbells produced a shadowy, otherworldly effect, adding to the overwhelmingly feverish atmosphere, and the fateful hammer blows did not fail to make an unnerving impression in the cataclysmic conclusion.

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