Magazine article The Spectator

Personality Count

Magazine article The Spectator

Personality Count

Article excerpt

The subtle relationship between conductor and orchestra has been on candid display in recent nights at the Proms. The essence of the matter is the power or impotence of the different personalities over the musicians ranged before them; and there has been a rich crop of such personalities, from Rattle to Gergiev, from Barenboim to Solti, from Andrew Davis to Yan Pascal Tortelier.

The extremes were represented by Simon Rattle and the CBSO (2 September), and Valery Gergiev with the Rotterdam Philharmonic (7 September). Rattle's stage manner has, in one sense, quietened down a lot in recent years. Gone are the extravagantly balletic movements on the rostrum, and much reduced is the sheer exuberance of his presence (Solti, exactly twice his age, has more of this). Instead Rattle and his orchestra have settled into an understanding which is capable, it seems, of conveying almost any nuance of meaning. The two elements are so perfectly united that they concentrate as one, with a blend which puts them amongst the very finest orchestras in the world. Rattle has got to the point where grandiose sweep of gesture is supererogatory. Their Bruckner Seventh Symphony had the originality of genius: slow and thoughtful, gentle where it often is not, the brass element wrapped into the whole, the Adagio sounding more like Mahler in lagoon mood than I would have thought possible. I'm not sure I want Bruckner to sound like Mahler, but that it could be done at all suggested something quite new in a very familiar work.

Perhaps Rotterdam plays a similar role in Dutch life as Birmingham does in ours; yet its orchestra could come from any provincial European city. Gergiev would seem to have a long way to go to build up any kind of rapport with this band - given his high profile in other contexts at the moment one wonders why he is involved with them at all. But their performance suggested they were not good for each other: the more impassioned he became the more pedestrian was the result. It was as if he thought he would be judged on the vigorousness of his movements; and they knew it was all show and had shut themselves down against it. Prokofiev's intricate and insufficiently heard Sixth Symphony was the casualty.

Quite how the Chicago Orchestra reacts these days to Georg Solti is a matter for speculation. They actually play much better for their current Music Director, Daniel Barenboim, who guided them through an epic reading of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony (12 September). …

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