Prom 66, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, 4 September 2010Posted on 5 September 2010
“Mahler’s 11th Symphony”, Rattle called the second half of this concert as he introduced it, requesting the audience not to interrupt with applause until all three works were over. The three compositions he was uniting under Mahler’s banner were Schönberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra. The original versions of these works were composed in 1909, 1909–10, and 1913–15 respectively, bringing us from the midst of one of the most artistically creative periods in the life of Vienna, or anywhere else for that matter, to the appalling destruction of the First World War. These three compositions are not works I know well, and hearing them together in this way was a revelation. As far as I know, Rattle recorded the first two items on a CD along with Berg’s Lulu suite, played by the CBSO, but has not recorded the three works in this concert as a unit. I hope he does.
The first half of the concert — the Parsifal Prelude and the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss — was less interesting, at least for me. I bow to no one in my admiration for Rattle’s conducting, particularly of twentieth century music, but Wagner is not so much his métier and I found the prelude to Parsifal surprisingly dreary. This is music I’ve heard many times, and for me the performance lacked dramatic intensity. The Strauss was well sung by Karita Mattila, after a wobbly start, and I understand she’s giving a concert at the Wigmore Hall in a few days’ time. That venue is surely better for Lieder, but in the vast spaces of the Albert Hall her voice did not come through as well as I had hoped, though she sounded much better on the BBC recording.
Watching it on television later, I heard the announcer referring to the Berlina Philharmonica (sic). I wish the BBC would either use English pronunciation (Berlin Philharmonic) or say the German correctly (Berliner Philharmoniker), rather than falling between two stools.