Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic, Joseph Haydn and Igor Stravinsky: This results in a beautiful harmonic four-part chord. Rattle’s witty, vital interpretations of the Viennese classics were what tipped the scales when the orchestra chose the British conductor as Claudio Abbado’s successor, “Le Sacre du printemps”, the scandalous ballet by the Russian cosmopolitan, then became the signature piece of his era. And even now, four years after Sir Simon’s official farewell, there are still sparks between him and the musicians when works by the two composers are on the music stands.
“Of all the musicians of his time, Haydn was the one who was most aware that perfect symmetry means being completely dead,” Stravinsky said appreciatively of his colleague. And Rattle makes this audible in his Symphony 102, composed in London in 1794.
The lively bustle of the opening movement is mixed with noise, unexpected rumbling of a drum, and surprising tutti accents as exclamation marks. This is how intelligent entertainment works, which the maestro accentuates with an extra-long general pause and a special braking maneuver just before the sentence comes to an end.
In the Adagio he makes the muted trumpets sound like bleating sheep, as a counterpoint to Rococo gallantry. He takes the minuet in a rustic, rough manner, so that the courtly stride becomes a clog dance. In the final Presto, he wishes the Philharmoniker to be light and airy at a rapid pace – a feat that only the best can pull off.
After the break, the conductor announces a “Stravinsky Salad”: He put it together himself, but not from the well-known hits, but from very early and very late pieces, rarely played works and occasional compositions. Like Picasso, Stravinsky has stylistically shed his skin many times over the course of his long career: it starts with an archaic fanfare, then turn-of-the-century pomp follows, the mezzo-soprano Anna Lapkovskaya exudes in an aria that sounds as if Tchaikovsky and Massenet had composed it together.
In the “Chant funèbre” from 1908 it dares, as an antidote Rattle offers joke songs with expressionistic accompaniment. The orchestral etude “Madrid” sounds like the “Sacre” in Spanish, followed by virtuoso circus numbers, between minimalistic elements there is a pas de deux from “Apollon musagète”, celebrated by the Philharmoniker with a beguiling string sound. Finally, the “Scherzo alla russe” acts as the bouncer of this entertaining retrospective, with which Simon Rattle proves that, even at the age of 67, he is still a curious explorer of the classical repertoire.