OAE/Rattle – Brahms & Schumann – 15 December

Genoveva, Op.85 – Overture
Nachtlied, Op.108
Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op.45

Susan Gritton (soprano)

Dietrich Henschel (baritone)

European Voices

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 15 December, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Great performances have a tendency to cast long shadows. Rattle’s of A German Requiem won’t be doing that, but it was uncommonly absorbing during the actual realisation, and completed a hat-trick of very different renditions of this wonderful work heard in London this year: the others being Walter Weller’s with the massed forces of the BBC, which was magnificent, and Manfred Honeck’s Swedish Radio account at the Proms, which was very moving.

Rattle’s was neither magnificent nor moving. But with the pellucid tones of the OAE, this was an object lesson in hearing Brahms’s textures fall into place with a naturalness that was intriguing. One strange thing, given who was conducting, was the lack of imposition from the podium. Rattle seemed content to ’let it be’, which is not to deny him his choice of tempos, suitably dragging in the second movement march (“For all flesh is as grass…”) in which the timpani sounded, appropriately, like military drums, and the horns were powerfully ’open’ in this funereal procession. With a small if excellent choir, about 40 in number, there were moments when more amplitude was required, not least in the daringly fast sixth movement (“For here have we no continuing city…”), yet in more intimate movements, the blend of choir and orchestra was an aural joy, say where voices, flutes and harps intertwined effortlessly.

Of the soloists, Dietrich Henschel was more a preacher than singer, and Susan Gritton was intensely radiant. The OAE’s playing was commendably committed, and Rattle’s democratising of the whole certainly brought a point of view from all concerned as well as an ’instruction’ as to how this music fits together. Whether it was a spiritual experience (Weller and Honeck were) is very much an individual concern. Your reviewer was musically illuminated!

Good to hear the choral Nachtlied (new to this Schumann devotee) in the short first half – did we need an interval? – its crepuscular soundworld, mellifluous expression and dramatic middle occupying a similar domain to Brahms’s Requiem.

And a long shadow was indeed cast, Rattle’s superb account of the Genoveva overture, which bristled with detail and theatricality, phrased with affection and with a coda dispatched with a real kick to the finishing post. We could have gone straight into the opera; maybe, one day, that’s just what Sir Simon will do.

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