Haydn, an Imaginary Orchestral Journey with Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO

This photo is (c) Evening Standard

We are just back from our evening at the Barbican, where Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra performed pieces of Wagner, Bartok, and Haydn under the headline of “Haydn, an Imaginary Orchestral Journey”.

Sir Simon Rattle is currently finishing his tenure at the world’s 2nd best symphonic orchestra in Berlin (where his tenure ends in 2018) and will already take over the reins at the LSO, usually ranking #5 worldwide (#1 being Amsterdam, #3 Vienna, and #4 Chicago) in September this year. So this evening is a nice way of saying hello to his new home. He seems to be taking Brexit with good humour, but some say he would have made a different decision had he known about it.

As expected, the evening was a brilliant experience. I normally dislike Wagner’s music, because in my mind it’s got the (unjustified, of course, I admit that!) feel of Romanticism preparing the ground for Hitler in Germany. I don’t like the pompousness and noise that I associate with Wagner. However, the evening’s Prelude and Liebestod from ‘Tristan and Isolde’ were pleasant enough, no complaints here. There were even plenty of sections of subtle, gentle, playful lines, only in part due to the composer’s work, and partially down to the conductor’s interpretation.

(c) Evening Standard (both photos)

When it comes to piano concerts, you can’t go wrong with the combination of a world class pianist like Denis Kozhukhin and one of the most demanding piano concerts in existence: Bartok’s devilishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 2, which would break the hands of any lesser pianist. A pure delight, even for someone like me who prefers chamber orchestras, cello or violin concerts, or of course proper symphony orchestras, over piano concerts anytime. The only slight regret was that Lang Lang, who we had seen and adored so many times in concert, was not able to perform due to an injury with his left arm.

By far the best part of the evening was the Imaginary Journey, which could not have been assembled by anyone better than the evening’s conductor, who always happened to be an enormous admirer of Haydn. In Sir Simon Rattle’s view, Haydn encapsulates the best of Enlightenment, according to a quote from the LSO’s website: “intelligence, respect, humour, wit and profound thought.”

Presumably with the help of his many assistants and cooperating world-class experts, Sir Simon Rattle tells the audience convincingly that he screened through most of Haydn’s oeuvre, including unknown pieces buried in some specialist libraries spread over different countries. What he ended up with and shared tonight is an eclectic mix of some of the best-known pieces, some eccentric pieces known to those in the know, and some awkward but thoroughly amusing bits.

For example, at one stage, just after one major piece had ended, a strange single-line melody was ringing from the top of the back left-hand side of the concert hall, a few seconds later another, more complex melody started playing automatically from the front right-hand side, with more and more melodies following over the next few minutes from all corners of the room. It turned out, these were some of the 60 or so clock ring-tone jingles the “Father of Symphony”, who was mentor and friend to Mozart and teacher to Beethoven, had composed over the years, while working for the wealthy Esterhazy aristocrats at their secluded castle as court musician.

We are looking forward to seeing more of Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO from September this year.

For another symphony concert review, this time with #1 worldwide, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, performing in Frankfurt, click here. For restaurant reviews click here for two-starred Lafleur in Frankfurt, or here for Gruvelageret, a gourmet restaurant in the world’s northernmost human settlement, 1,000km from the North Pole.

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