by Rachel Beaumont

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Rattle Redemption: Berg and Bartók at the Barbican

Late works by Janáček, Carter, Berg and Bartók
Simon Rattle, Isabelle Faust and London Symphony Orchestra
Barbican Theatre
Stalls R54, complimentary (thanks, Richard)
14 January 2018
Barbican page

Janáček Overture to From the House of the Dead
Carter Instances
Berg Violin Concerto
Bartók Concerto for Orchestra

I wouldn’t have thought it possible but this dreadful week full of disappointment redeemed itself at the last moment with this firecracker of a concert from the LSO, led by my new favourite person Simon Rattle.

In honesty I’m not Janáček’s biggest fan (I’m sure I’ll see the light eventually) and aside from its simple and much repeated main theme I find the From the House of the Dead overture a bit confusing. But then it does have that theme and chains and only lasts ten minutes, so as a programme opener I’ve no complaints.

To my shame I’ve even less to say about the Carter beyond thinking it was quite fun, wishing I’d listened to it a few times before coming to the concert and pouring gallons of imaginary scorn on my fellow luddites in the audience who didn’t have the good manners to know not to cough in the numerous quiet bits. Shame on them.

The concert lifted off, though, with Isabelle Faust’s mesmerising performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto. I’ve been a bit wary of this piece since its absurd addendum-ing to Lulu in Hamburg, but Faust has wiped the memory slate clean and with Rattle and the LSO crafted a wonderful new entry to cherish and prize. In addition to their collective immaculate precision the ensemble as a whole drew such colour, such nuance and such wondrous responsivity to the score that they spread a spell of enchantment that endured well beyond the last dying resonance of the final note. It couldn’t have been better.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra is more of a gauntlet-running exercise and so it could have been better, but only if the orchestra were manned instead by a breed of super-humans yet unknown in this age. Rattle pushed the orchestra beyond the bounds of what seems to be physically possible and, because the LSO are so close to perfection already and because this piece is this piece, the results were electrifying. Those super-humans might have made it more perfect but they could not have made it more exciting – a smart and wholly satisfying sequel to the captured solemnity of the Berg.

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