wed 17/04/2024

Gerstein, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - American glitter and sinew | reviews, news & interviews

Gerstein, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - American glitter and sinew

Gerstein, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - American glitter and sinew

Giddying sonorites as ever in a new John Adams work, but Roy Harris takes the palm

Simon Rattle, John Adams and the LSO after the world premiere performance of 'Frenzy'All images by Mark Allan

How lucky those of us were who grew up musically with the young Simon Rattle’s highly original programming in the 1980s. He’s still doing it at a time when diminishing resources can dictate more careful repertoire, and last night’s Americana proved spectacularly original. Four of the five works gave a different perspective on the decade and a half in which Shostakovich’s very different Fourth Symphony, LSO triumph of the earlier part of the week, failed to reach public performance.

Did the sequence work? Not entirely. Bookending a John Adams premiere, an unfamiliar expansion of Gershwin’s melody-packed Piano Concerto and an absolute masterpiece, Roy Harris’s Third Symphony, with overtures to two Gershwin musicals meant celebrating the manner of the London Symphony Orchestra’s big, broad swing in this music under Rattle rather than the matter of these potpourris prefacing the political semi-satires Let 'Em Eat Cake and Strike Up the Band, two works which no longer have potency on the stage in the way that Bernstein’s On the Town or the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows still do. At least we left humming the one familiar tune, the title song of the latter. Gerstein, Rattle and the LSOThe Piano Concerto, which might have been better paired with An American in Paris in the first half, was both familiar and startling in Kirill Gerstein’s chameleonic hands (pictured above). This was advertised as "George Gershwin ed Timothy Freeze", and while the programme note left us largely to guess at what that meant, it seemed that extra cadenzas, or cadenza-like passages, were to be the order of the day from the pianist's very first entry. Gerstein managed them all with seemingly improvisatory flair, but lengthening the shape of a work which already feels like a lot of great ideas strung together for the hell of it doesn't improve the overall impact, least of all a first-movement repeat which seemed to have Rattle baffled and semaphoring for a moment.

Even the slow movement gets a hold-up just when we need to arrive finally at the big tune – one of Gershwin's very greatest, and lushly phrased by the LSO strings. But James Fountain's high-wire, bluesy trumpet was a star, a worthy heir to Maurice Murphy of immortal memory, and while the big-boned Rattle approach left some slack in its predecessor, the finale was a real roller-coaster ride. Cap that? Gerstein did, with a discombobulating Earl Wild transcription turning "I Got Rhythm" into a Ligeti etude. Rsttle and the LSOEmbarrassing confession: I'd never heard Roy Harris's Third Symphony live until last night, and this 1938 work of genius had all the impact of the most exciting premiere (a similar thing happened some years back when the late Jiri Belohlavek conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in another Third, Martinu's, for the first time).It's fortunate that this concert is to be broadcast at a later date on BBC Radio 3, because there could surely be no more impassioned or glorious-sounding playing of it than the LSO's under Rattle, starting with cellos putting rich flesh on sinewy writing.

It's often been said that this is an American symphony pure and simple, but, following as it does the concision and ineffable development of Sibelius Seven, it's simply a world-class masterpiece, evolving into a gorgeous pastoral idyll with multi-divided strings and ending with the supreme surprise of doombeats. Few musical works begin in a major key and end in the minor, but here's one which does so magnificently. Rsttle and John AdamsA more astute piece of programming might have placed the new Adams work before the Harris, since despite its characteristic sense of flying through space, as Rattle many years ago said about the music of arguably our greatest living composer, and its angsty harmonies, Frenzy is more showpiece than "short symphony", as Adams would have it. Impressive indeed that the music never quite loses its feel of moto perpetuo,.and holds interest – just – throughout its 18 minutes. The turbo-charged drives familiar from Harmonielehre and Naive and Sentimental Music are here in spades, though the dreamscape for two harps, celesta and percussion feels new.. For all that, the more austerely scored Harris kept resonating; the great proved the enemy of the very good.

Cap that? Gerstein did, with a discombobulating Earl Wild transcription turning 'I Got Rhythm' into a Ligeti etude

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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