London Symphony Orchestra presents hit program at Segerstrom with mixed results
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The last time we saw British conductor Simon Rattle perform at the Segerstrom Concert Hall, he was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on his farewell tour as Music Director. He returned on Tuesday night with another ensemble, the London Symphony Orchestra, which he has led since 2017, in what will likely be his last appearance here with these musicians. He decamps for Munich in 2023, after a surprisingly short stint with the orchestra.
What went wrong? Well, Brexit, for example, which makes touring much more difficult for British bands. Plans stalled for a much-needed new concert hall in London, for another. Sir Simon said his departure from the LSO was for entirely personal reasons (his family lives in Berlin), but who knows? For some reason Rattle is back, next stop at the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (in Munich), where, by the way, a new concert hall is to open this year.
These miscellaneous facts were only a backdrop for Tuesday’s concert, which looked like a safe bet on paper, with the program featuring key works by Berlioz, Sibelius, Bartók and Ravel, as well as a new work, and the one of the best orchestras in the world which interpreted it. , led by one of the most famous conductors in the world. The fact that the concert didn’t quite live up to expectations, however, may have something to do with this background.
The LSO did not always seem comfortable on the Segerstrom stage on Tuesday. In particular, the fortissimo sound was thundering and crowded, the room overloaded. The strings (wearing a mask), while nicely unified and muscular, had a nasty tone at times, call it cocky and tough. The woodwinds and brass were not always very clean; the drums crackled, sometimes uncomfortably.
In short, not only did the LSO sound like a touring orchestra unfamiliar with the venue it was in, but it also felt like an orchestra with a home venue (the Barbican Centre, with infamously bad acoustics) that makes the musicians work harder than they need to work here. Less would have been more.
So, too, with Rattle. He has long been a conductor who leaves few phrases unturned – that is, he is a demanding and active manipulator of rhythm and tempo, articulation and texture. It can be a fascinating and beautiful thing to see. Here, especially with the proposed repertoire, we often wished that he would leave quite well on his own and let the music be.
It’s not that any of these factors spoiled the evening. It’s that they sometimes kept the music down to earth, kept it from being as magnificent as possible.
In Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7, which closed the first half of the concert, Rattle’s attentions were certainly admirable. What a strange and wonderful piece this is, a work that seems to be invented as it goes, to come out of obscurity, and only finally arrive when it finally arrives, at the end, once.
Rattle’s efforts dispelled the fog, motivated the darkness, and shaped the ambiguities. But eventually, this approach got bogged down in a thicket of detail and impulse. It turns out that the Sibelius should unfold (and meander) on its own.
So, too, with Ravel The waltz, the waltz to end all waltzes, and in these end times an ever more popular piece to program. Rattle’s attentions and the orchestra’s efforts felt strained and controlling at times, though eventually this music exploded thrillingly as it always does. And at softer dynamics in particular, Ravel’s magnificent orchestration came through beautifully.
Bartok Suite The Miraculous Mandarin behaved better that night. Its episodic structure suited Rattle’s careful care; its biting, violent notation packs a lot of punch and cut through any potential clutter. His virtuoso demands showcased the orchestra’s technical prowess.
The concert opened with an agile and cutting account of the work of Berlioz The Corsair Overture, music of swashbuckling exuberance.
The spark catchers by British composer Hannah Kendall, born in 1984, followed. This 10-minute work in slightly modernist language was inspired by a poem of the same name about women who worked in a match factory in the 19th century. The music seems to effectively imitate the clash of matches and the rapid kindling of flames. It also flickers nervously and shimmers and intertwines and intertwines and generally sounds great. He didn’t leave much of an impression, however, among his program mates and the audience only gave him a handful of applause.
After The waltz, the audience insisted on an encore and received one in the form of a less apocalyptic dance: the charming and bucolic Slavic Dance, Op. 46, No. 3, by Dvorak.
Timothy Mangan is a contributing writer for arts and culture at Voice of OC. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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