Even after conducting Mahler's Resurrection Symphony for over 40 years, Simon Rattle still conjures something thrillingly revelatory from his players
As an 18-year-old at the Royal Academy of Music in 1973, Simon Rattle managed to persuade fellow students to perform Mahler’s colossal Resurrection Symphony under him. Four decades on, he is as persuasive as ever, but now cajoling his Berlin Philharmonic in a truly memorable performance — the second of two — to end his London residency.
Without wishing to denigrate Rattle’s student friends, I imagine last night’s performance had the edge in technical sophistication, the Berliners playing with exceptional refinement, even by their standards.
What struck me most forcibly about Rattle’s handling, however, was that even after conducting the work for over 40 years, he is still able to conjure something so urgent, so thrillingly revelatory from his players. From the leisurely Ländler of the second movement, movingly evoking the suggestion of a dream memory, to the grave-busting apocalypse of the finale (the London Symphony and CBSO choruses immaculately drilled by Simon Halsey), everything was prepared and executed with complete mastery.
Magdalena Kozena made a magical entry with “O Röschen rot”, and held us as much with her theatrical stance and gestures as with her wonderfully eloquent mezzo. Kate Royal was the equally admirable soprano soloist.
Even all the tonal refulgence on offer was not quite enough to undermine Rattle’s case for a new London concert hall. But this performance will remain as a benchmark. Adequate superlatives elude one. Stupendous will have to do.
© Barry Millington