LSO/Sir Simon Rattle – Sibelius & Bruckner

The Oceanides
Symphony No.7 in E [Urtext Edition by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs]

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 18 September, 2022
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Over the past decade, Bruckner’s Symphonies have done very well by Sir Simon Rattle. He has performed and recorded the completion of No.9 by Nicola Samale, Giuseppe Mazzuca, John Phillips and Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs. More recently he has disentangled the various editions of No.4; and he has taken on Cohrs’s new Bruckner Urtext, which presumably will take over from the 1950s Nowak editions, in No.6, and now No.7. Shared with Sibelius’s final tone poems, the Bruckner 7 was part of a Landscapes in Sound programme that, beyond the unifying fact that both composers significantly extended symphonic possibilities, capitalised on their differences.

Scandinavian painters have worked wonders with their mysterious northern light, and Sibelius’s The Oceanides here could be heard as a stepping-stone from Debussy’s La mer to Britten’s Sea Interludes, with the LSO’s flickering woodwind, harp and glockenspiel in complete command of the way instrumental detail flows in and out of the swell and bulk of the orchestra, reinforced by the eight double basses ranged in a line at the back of the platform, as much a visual as an aural wall of sound. Rattle and his players fielded Sibelius’s mysterious, evanescent logic as the music seemed to emanate more than was played. The performance of Tapiola was a revelation, doing full justice to Sibelius’s uncanny blend of stasis and mobility, when the more the music changes the more it stays the same, when you can’t quite pinpoint the moment of small humanity vanishing into the huge perspectives of the northern forests. Rattle drew hair-raising playing, ranging from thematic disintegration and renewal to the vision of the forest god. The veil Sibelius draws over his quiet, elusive close, as played here, will, I hope, stay with me a long time.

This concert, on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, was not cancelled. Before the second half, the LSO played the National Anthem followed by the National Moment of Reflection. Whether or not it is because of the new Cohrs edition, Rattle consistently brings out a lovely separation and transparency of sound in Bruckner’s string writing, with an ingratiating warmth and lightness that in particular flatters the woodwind, horns and trumpets, and this registered strongly in the seraphic opening of No.7. Rattle also has the knack of making tempos seem a bit slower than they actually are, while sustaining a steady pulse. Sometimes the first movement was so seamless that structural points became obscured, but, rather suitably, the Adagio grew out of grief into radiance, with a magnificent musical pole-vault to the climax, complete with the inclusion of the cymbal clash. 

The Trio of the Scherzo became a brief, subtle ballet, conflating seduction and pastoralism, and Rattle rightly kept the tone light for the Finale, giving the discursiveness its head but keeping his focus on Bruckner’s short but potent concluding peroration.

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