The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Friday, March 18, 2011

BBC: London SO/Simon Rattle. Revisit of Berlin transfigural pairing of Bruckner and Messiaen. Barbican. 07.03.14.

Transfiguration was apparently order for the day behind program first played under Simon Rattle recently instead by the Berlin Philharmonic. I have yet to hear transcript from that weekend of concerts, also pairing Olivier Messiaen’s winds and percussion scored Et Exspecto Ressurectionem and Anton Bruckner Ninth Symphony.

‘Et exspecto ressurectionem mortuorum’ (1964) represented (start to) phase of new simplicity for Messiaen – toward better refinement, distillation of applying his compositional techniques. Whereas the five movements to ‘Et exspecto’ are untitled, Biblical quotation is cited for each. Rattle was assured deep color from sax-horn player among LSO ranks to open the first movement (‘Out of the depths have I cried’ – Psalm. 130), plus dark, burnished sound from LSO brass. Climactic, multi-layered chords - series of which accumulate a formidable crescendo - got openly projected. All rang out upon high, but traversing lower registers, intonation and grasp of this music’s hieratic sentiments both became slightly compromised.

For the second movement (‘Christ, being raised from the dead’ – Romans 6:9) Rattle made jagged opening unison light melismae and then gilded exchange of monody between principal woodwinds – threatening to make line sag. Fifteen-unit Hindu rhythm, the Simhavikrama, received somewhat extra playful touch, without breaking toward being egregiously so – just enough to have one lightly question to what extent Rattle has internalized matters. For third movement (‘The hour is coming’ – John 5:29) a certain overt quality to the music-making again revealed perhaps putting at a distance mystical sense of death’s inevitability this music better simply conveys. LSO chimes carried a curiously metallic quality about then. Crescendo for full body of woodwinds got slightly rushed, as did (enhanced) crescendo on gong. Uriapuru (Amazon bird) song from concertato of winds received more natural enunciation.

Supple dance like step characterized the more multifaceted fourth movement - with antiphonal calibration between winds and (or answering) bells, cowbells. Chorale beneath in unison brass animated concertato well, providing good frame to the rest.
Higher winds succinctly profiled light tracing of calandra lark; Rattle’s hieratic framing of concluding slow stretto for full arsenal of winds, bright on top, also proved very satisfying. Finale (‘And I heard the voice of a great multitude’ (Revelation 19:6), alongside first movement to this, simple, offered well calibrated richly varied antiphony between six gongs underpinning well measured line from unison horns. Overtones, emerging from percussion below, enriched ability to grasp (or not) ideal experience of, sense of grandeur for concluding thoughts – toward all being able to fit very well.

For being so compressed a work, ‘Et exspecto’ holds formidable, significant perils for those who might take any of its gestural simplicity for granted. Rattle, for having invested some thought therein, came up with performance direct at feigning well simplicity paramount here - better than with two Messiaen full length works he has conducted in Berlin over the past decade. Work for smaller ensemble, of relatively modest proportions, ‘Et exspecto’ fits better Rattle’s capabilities engaging this corner of the repertoire; this was a good performance. Hardly any offense got committed here, but neither was there quite all there could have been toward making more distinctive sense of this unique composition.

What may eventually emerge remains elusive - Simon Rattle savored talking about there actually being (close to) a completed fourth movement to the Bruckner Ninth. This may be due to new unearthing of sketches mostly yet unseen for finale, putting things modestly, to be all but one-tenth of it intact - without massive intervention. According to Robert Simpson, that he noticed a generation ago lack of anything suggesting a coda among the sketches, it would be a daunting task to put one together - to what could perhaps still ultimately become Bruckner’s longest symphony. Good helping of skepticism still remains healthy. Rattle, interviewed, appealed to rhetorical safety net, to prudently proclaim Bruckner’s Ninth still complete, even with still only three movements.

One or two further issues come to mind. One is likely slight over-emphasis on likely the parlous state of Bruckner’s physical and mental state during time of composition. With masterpiece on this level, there are different perspectives from which to reckon it’s meaning overall – and without leaning Pirandellian here how to negotiate inner workings thereof. Quite frankly, a little more than both Robert Simpson and Simon Rattle may reckon, inclusive of considering the weirdness of numerous passages in the Ninth, here was a way too for Bruckner – who had to have been quite lucid to have written much of the Ninth so well – to have looked out far ahead of all about him. In the process, Bruckner achieved sonorities, as also Simpson cites, both out of the ordinary and indeed unique to himself. Even for a dying man, tormented by doubt, there is hardly anything more positive than to be doing this very thing. Simpson and Rattle do not altogether exclude such a consideration, but in part perhaps they do.

Warmly supported by his London Symphony players here, Rattle found within his grasp good sense of ebb and flow through much of this symphony, with almost always good notion of what direction overall the music is headed. Without bringing special attention to it, but especially notable for some of the most quiet, mysterious passages therein, the virtuosity of the LSO never left anybody in doubt.

Betraying moment or two of dull intonation from the strings, the first movement started off slightly tentatively. Moving into climactic crest to first theme group, Rattle began honing in on much detail in scaling proportions overall; at being so painstaking, he momentarily provoked several slips in ensemble. Element of mystery entered into better focus in making transition to sensitively molded, calibrated take on the sensuous second theme. Interweaving voicing became consistently febrile through varying interaction both times it appeared. Third theme group took about five or six measures to achieve good footing, and then relaxation with meandering subject, such as Bruckner conceived it, became very welcome.

Development or extended counterstatement (Essence of Bruckner - R Simpson) had Rattle cut moderately paced path through sequenced re-starts of motto chorale idea from early on, subtly expanding out its restatements. Yielding into transition to storm strewing reprise of first theme full climax, then out thereof was all very good, until moderately contrived, impetuous rush right before then lift added to terrible F Minor climax, weakening overall well grasped effect of coming off so wearily as happens next. For much wandering about through searching third group and building outcry of anguish alternating with despondent expression of resignation, Rattle lent a supple hand - all tight in focus toward ringing, magisterial conclusion.

Scherzo opening received deft, incisive pointing, but perhaps fastidious to extent this music’s demonic qualities, its stamping beat, got minimized - better this than making it chilly showcase of orchestral virtuosity. Letting loose at violent achievement of the minor dominant halfway through Rattle made intimidating, as he should; less maintaining rhythmic focus occurred two accelerandi Rattle too readily applied. Moderating rapid skip to open the Trio slightly minimized contrast from what preceded it; balancing for sighing consequent from the cellos though was scrupulous - supple allowing flute obbligato ample space toward making all his part speak expressively. Scherzo resumed on tighter rein than first time through. Recapture of some vehemence may have registered less assured than before, but all working toward most cumulative buildup finishing trek over much rough terrain.

Londoners then fluidly assisted Rattle in providing us eloquent, at times moving account of the Adagio finale. Watching 1978 video of Karajan doing the Ninth and then observing my notes on what Rattle gave it had me almost reckoning several very similar things to have transpired in both. Karajan, videotaped, definitely shows more involvement, engagement with this music than on cold studio recording made near the same time at Philharmonie in Berlin. With Karajan, one still somewhat picks up, live from Musikverein, a still near-obsessive need for control of sonority, to extent with Vienna of nearly smoothing out several of this music’s more striking dissonances.

Rattle – dry, matter-of-fact with Mahler Third Symphony Adagio very recently with Berlin - here from different angle, definitely provided more filling out. Two episodes midway through Bruckner Ninth Adagio, where one encounters striking cross-cutting sturm und drang between strings and brass, trumpets leading inversion in B Minor of introduction minor-ninth motif, and then where strings cut in on same motif midstream both got played thick to extent of missing optimum detachment of sonorities. Naively with Rattle, impetus of striving to get such right seems paramount. Still, Rattle, at whatever level of awareness, thereby made impression of holding this music out at slight distance removed - with what conflict to be engaged in a good several times during this Adagio.

Following instance, where violins and cellos exchange broad interval motif opening the Adagio, now over repeated hollow whole tone repeated interval in the winds, had strings flesh out deep angst infusing it all, with detachment of woodwinds underneath perfectly realized; Karajan muddies things by slurring the winds (with line headed nowhere). Steep climb was made to harrowing climax to resound forth.

Rattle waited for brightly entering trumpets, to achieve good focus to help open the Adagio Shape, focus to supple line, most everything, then became exemplary, sense of mysterious light infusing much - well before descending principal flute entering as though from afar to help make transition back to how the Adagio begins. Portamento then on yielding second subject sounded slightly applied from without. All carping aside, mostly for Rattle reckoning it aesthetic to apply distancing he has according to generally urbane sensibility expected, Rattle’s elegiac grasp of overall perspective was pleasing. If less than perfectly engaging of all proportions at stake. His Londoners here fluidly expressed, outlined majority thereof. Emotional simplicity, reserve of Rattle’s approach, if only thus far intermittently casting spells, ultimately most certainly did, as if to peer well over the horizon, toward locating fine resolve through this Adagio’s ebbing away - with principal horn’s quote of opening the Seventh eloquently making final say.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

free counters