Simon Rattle's farewell concert as chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker livestreamed Thursday, now audio-only on Deutschland Kultur til 26th June. Mahler Symphony no 6, chosen because that was what they did in their first concert together some thirty years ago. In the sixteen years that Rattle has been Chief Conductor , the Berlin Philharmonic has developed and grown. They're sounding wonderful. Harding has been doing Mahler 6 since he was in his early 20's and over the years, his approach has deepened. This "farewell" with the Berliners was a valediction. Nuts to assume that this symphony is "tragic" because of its name tag The third hammer blow emphatically does not fall ! As nearly always in Mahler resolution is not defeat but a kind of liberation.
Forcefulness right from the start, the marching pace confidently defined. From this the more esoteric theme emerged, strings suggesting new, distant horizons. Dichotomy matters in Mahler, and Rattle gets the way the composer layers different concepts of texture and motion. Magnificent surge led by the strings, evoking warmth and perhaps, memories of a happy past, punctuated by the march. Thus the quirky shrillness that creeps in, for the march is (like so much in Mahler) almost grotesque, since time does not stand still, however much we might regret. The richness in the Berliner's playing emphasizes the beauty of life, enhanced by the "sparkling" near silence that follows and the return of the "horizons" theme and plaintive violins and winds. A good sense of struggle between what the march symbolizes and the sassy freedom it attempts to suppress, and a vigorous conclusion to the first movement, intensifying the poignant tenderness of the Andante. Many of the Berlin musicians are consummate soloists and Rattle highlights the finesse of their playing This is a gorgeous orchestra, and Rattle makes the most of what they can do. Shimmering, mesmerizing beauty, so lovely you could almost weep. Yet deeper timbres take over, propelling the movement forward : alas, we cannot linger ! The last moments gleam, phrases stretching out like the last rays of a golden sunset before darkness sets in.
Thus the vigour in the scherzo with its "screams" and sharp outbursts against the surge. Yet in the quieter passages, the pulse remains strong, the heartbeat regular. When the elusive "dance" appears it's like a reiminder that better times haven't been in vain, even though the groaning basses and bassoons might demur. Again, Rattle defines the themes well, bringing out their mysterious interplay. Thus we can follow the logic of the trajectory, where all the strands are drawn together in the Finale. Every sound contributes to the whole, nothing wasted, nothing lost in this powerful conception, and withn the Berliners, everything works, perfectly. Everyone talks aboutb the hammer blows as they are sheer theatre, but the cowbells matter, too. As the "clouds" of darkness draw in, the pace slows so we can take in the enormity of what they might represent. Then suddenly the symphony ends with an emphatic flourish. We might expect the finality of death but Mahler lets the ending hang. It's not "over" when it ends.
A wonderful performance and very individual. An orchestra is a business like any other, and Rattle's leadership has built upon Abbado's legacy. Karajan may have been made conductor for life, but that's not necessarily a healthy situation, for any organization. Better that Rattle's built on Abbado's legacy, where musicians count, not just the boss man, and where the enjoyment of music for its own sake is fundamental, and open to all. What Rattle brought to Berlin was his enthusiasm and his sheer love of music, and a solid track record of orchestral development. (which is why London wants him so much). . Every Chief symbolizes a new era, and in the last 16 years, the Berlin marque has expanded and grown. What of the future ?