Prom 63: Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle – Ligeti, Wagner, Sibelius, Debussy and Ravel

Lohengrin – Prelude to Act I
Symphony No.4 in A minor, Op.63
Jeux – Poème dansé
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No.2

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 30 August, 2012
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker at the BBC Proms 2012. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouThis scintillating, stimulating and often coruscating Prom was one of two halves. The first contained music that revealed interior (often uncomfortable) truths; the second created no less terrifying emotions but these were wrapped up in a warmer glow of orchestral virtuosity.

On the evidence of Atmosphères and the Fourth Symphony, Ligeti and Sibelius were very much kindred spirits. In both works stasis and alarm are the ingredients mixed together to form an unsettling soundworld. The uncanny similarity between the two works was reinforced by inserting, without a break, Wagner’s Lohengrin Prelude to the Ligeti. Simon Rattle patiently beat silent time from the quiet enigmatic close of Atmosphères to allow the calm entrance on strings of the beautiful Prelude. The effect was to hear Sibelius as a bridge between the respective modernisms of Wagner and Ligeti. All three composers heralded new horizons and, in this concert, all three somehow became interdependent.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker at the BBC Proms 2012. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouLurking just beneath the surface of both the Ligeti and Sibelius works is a sense of impending catastrophe. Ligeti barely avoids this; Sibelius declares it with the utmost vehemence in the finale of his angst-ridden symphony. Both works end in a stoic acceptance of an unknown future. Rattle and his superb players provided the perfect instrument for illuminating this darkness. Ligeti’s uncanny spatial effects were played to perfection. In both works Rattle carefully graduated the differences between thunderous and quietest sounds in a most bewildering and astonishing fashion.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker at the BBC Proms 2012. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouDebussy and Ravel offered uplift to our human predicament. Of the two, Debussy shared more with Sibelius an ability to predict the future in musical trends. Jeux is a wonderful concoction of effects that flowed freely into the minds of later composers. Ravel rarely shared this gift of prophesy but his ballet Daphnis et Chloé provides an abundance of virtuosity allied to humanity that was embraced at the end of this extraordinary concert.

I was beginning to take the perfection of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s playing for granted by the time Ravel’s ‘Dawn’ appeared. But I recovered my faculties by the end to celebrate one of the finest, most spellbinding concerts I have attended in over forty-five years. Rattle gave an impassioned performance of the great Sibelius symphony, incredibly not heard at a Prom since 1985. Likewise Rattle’s attention to detail in the manifest delights of Debussy’s master work was unfolded with confidence and brilliance. The folding together of the Ligeti and the Wagner was a masterstroke, allowing time for reflection and preparation for the harrowing Sibelius. We needed a happy ending and Ravel provided it.

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