The Daily Telegraph
Rattle beats the postproms blues with an all-british feast
London Symphony Orchestra/sir Simon Rattle Barbican, London EC2
A head of the pack as usual,
Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra launched their new season with no fewer than six British pieces, ranging from Henry Purcell to a brand-new piece from Julian Anderson.
Visionary strangeness laced with nostalgia and humour were the keynotes. We heard the first of them in the opening piece, Purcell’s anthem Remember not, Lord, our offences, sung with heart-warming intensity by the London Symphony Chorus from the balcony above our heads (to observe social distancing).
Without missing a beat, Rattle swung round to the platform to face the orchestra’s massed brass and percussion for Michael Tippett’s fanfare-like Praeludium, composed for the 40th anniversary of the BBC in 1962. Its interwoven patterns of strident outcries, lyrical horn leaps and muttering percussion recalled Tippett’s opera, King Priam, but the juicy closing harmony and muted brass suggested that he’d been listening to the great jazz composer Gil Evans as well.
A new piece adds an extra frisson to an opening night, and it duly arrived in the shape of Anderson’s Exiles, which received a partial premiere of two of its three parts. The piece itself was touched by the pandemic, with a text combining an email from a Moroccan composer trapped at home because of Covid, a poem on the subject of exile by the Romanian modernist composer Horațiu Rădulescu, and those unutterably tragic lines about the Jewish captivity in Babylon from Psalm 137.
Faced with those texts, you’d expect a composer to strike a tone of deep mourning, but the opening was surprisingly light. Anderson has always had a gift for evoking in glowing colours the paradisiacal innocence of the world, which is moving in itself – but it did seem as if the music were so entranced by its own radiance, it forgot to register the words’ deeper undertow.
Lightness was also the keynote of Judith Weir’s Natural History, a setting of mysteriously wise Taoist texts about animal and human nature, and their connection with the vast Nature all around them. Twenty years ago, at its UK premiere, I was riveted by Weir’s way of summoning deep thoughts and feelings with the lightest touch, and if anything that touch seemed more unerring the second time round, especially with as moving a soloist as Lucy Crowe.
As if all that weren’t enough, we had Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral Symphony, its hints of First World War-inspired unease made especially poignant under Rattle’s urgent direction, and Peter Maxwell Davies’s rumbustious An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise, including bagpiper Robert Jordan in full regalia. Our spirits might have fallen with the ending of the Proms; thank you, LSO, for actually raising them higher.