Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil part 1

This evening’s Prom was the first of two in a row to feature Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. Such is Rattle’s popularity in this country that he is the only conductor I’ve seen so far to receive cheers when he walks on stage at the start of the concert. Sir Simon grinned back at the audience, his trademark mop of hair looking wilder than ever, and dressed in a tailcoat and bow tie, after I commented earlier in the season that no conductors dress like that, other than the John Wilson Orchestra’s eponymous conductor.

A full to capacity Royal Albert Hall heard a concert of just two works – two symphonies in fact, but with rather contrasting styles. In the first half it was Beethoven’s 4th symphony. This was given quite an expressive performance that was well received. But the highlight of the concert was undoubtedly the second half, which featured Mahler’s first symphony. This is probably my favourite Mahler symphony, as while it contains all the Mahler hallmarks, as an early work it is somehow closer in form to the classical symphony of the likes of Beethoven. Rattle showed how he can coax an exceptional performance of such varied tempo and dynamic range out of the excellent Berlin Phil, giving new life to a work that was far from tired in the first place. One point to note was the off-stage brass at the start of the first movement. The musicians walked back on stage to take their places immediately, during the movement. It has to be said that when the distant-sounding fanfares are reprised at the end of the symphony, they sound just as far away relying on mutes and playing softly! The orchestra received probably the loudest applause I’ve heard at the Proms so far at the end of the symphony, perhaps unsurprising given the cheers even before they started, but well deserved it was too.

It’ll be interesting to see if tomorrow’s concert of a more varied selection of, and in some cases more challenging, works encourages such a large turnout.

I was surprised to find the area around the south porch of the Royal Albert Hall fenced off today. Some fellow prommers tell me this is due to a piece of masonry falling off. Unlike the rest of the 19th century building, the south porch was only completed in 2004. A case of modern construction not being up to Victorian standards?

Prom 65
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major
Mahler Symphony No. 1 in D major
Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle conductor

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