Sunday 2 September 2012

BBC Proms week 8: Rattle's brilliant Lutosławski

Witold Lutosławski on the podium

What a difference a day makes. Only the previous evening, I'd been feeling a little deflated at the too-perfect-by-half playing of the Berlin Philharmonic in a couple of French items, but after their second Prom (Prom 64) with chief conductor Simon Rattle, I positively floated out of the Royal Albert Hall. The difference? The Berliners did what they do best - Romantic German stuff - and Rattle did what he does best - weird twentieth century stuff.

Yefim Bronfman joined them for the biggest and best of Brahms's concertos, the Second Piano Concerto. His was a robust and confident performance, perhaps without the nobility of Emil Gilels or the vivid storytelling of Nelson Friere, but compelling none the less. And the Berliners were at home in Brahms's classicism, which seems only to gain from the orchestra's inherent refined weight.

But it was the orchestra's performance of Witold Lutosławski's Third Symphony that really sent me away with a grin on my face. It's hardly a concert hall regular, but the symphony is a forceful drama that communicates something urgent and belligerent (those punchy Es heard as a recurring motif). Rattle knew Lutosławski and has remained a champion of this highly distinctive composer, and in the Berlin Orchestra he has an ensemble able to deliver every glistening detail of this score. He also judged the mood in the hall just right, including an encore (Dvorak's Slavonic Dance in C, Op.72/7) after a piece that he would usually have given the last word.

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