Smetana’s Má vlast - Barbican Centre - The Times

There is the ferocious Sarka about a warrior maiden and her bloodthirsty allies, which featured a superbly seductive clarinet solo from Andrew Marriner. 

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Smetana’s Má vlast - Barbican Centre - Classical Source

The great flowing theme of ‘Vltava’ was smooth and shining in the hands of the LSO strings, the polka a little sturdy, but the passage where the river hits the rapids was breathtakingly exciting, and the exhilaration of the up-tempo joyful version of the theme was a well-earned reward. 

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Janáček, Szymanowski, Sibelius - Bachtrack

A year on from his arrival at the helm of the London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle is clearly totally at home, and the orchestra likewise at ease with his authoritative yet seemingly ego-free direction. Their third concert at the Barbican in under a week was a fine example of live performance in every sense, and it was evident that, given the confidence and trust from Rattle to shine, the orchestra was having a ball. This was an evening that captured a definite sense of something special in the air, a mix of celebration, joy and emotion expressed in fine performances throughout.

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Janáček, Szymanowski, Sibelius - Seen and Heard International

Rattle’s beloved Sibelius concluded the concert. [...] This time round, quite simply I was on the edge of my seat, lifted by the sheer vividness of the emotive sonic pictorialism and the sense of sincere, committed celebration of this music that the LSO and Rattle communicated.

The journey from mystery to majesty was utterly compelling. The horn’s call and bassoons’ response of the opening bars seemed to sail to us direct from the still centre of a Scandinavian forest, while the timpani’s quiet trembling had a primordial and prophetic air. Vast open spaces unfolded, carrying us across landscapes and through narratives, as Rattle turned motionlessness into movement, seemingly static patterns evolving into such an organic, unstoppable impetus that by the ‘Scherzo’ we were surfing on a magic carpet of joy.

Rattle again conducted from memory; indeed, he didn’t so much as ‘conduct’ – there weren’t many indications of a ‘beat’ as such – as guide his players through a landscape that they know so well and love. But, that’s not to suggest that there was no laser-vision or attention to detail: time and again I was surprised when a gesture or glance flew lightly but commandingly in the direction of a particular player or section, with minimal means but immediate effect, coaxing a little more colour, weight, import.

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Dvořák, Janáček, Britten - Bachtrack

Rattle’s conducting gripped thanks to immaculate pacing and momentum rather than through 3D effects; moreover, he coaxed luscious playing from all his sections in the three inner movements, so much so that it was practically a concerto for orchestra, especially when the LSO’s sumptuous low strings combined to ring forth with lustrous basso beauty.

All told there was a tingle to this concert, as if musicians and audience alike saw clearly for the first time what riches lie ahead for the LSO. It was a special day, a Rattle day, with likely many more to come.

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Janáček, Szymanowski, Sibelius - The Arts Desk

Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, roughly contemporaneous with the Szymanowski, isn’t most people’s favourite Sibelius symphony for nothing. You can almost smell the Finnish pine forests in the hushed rustles of strings and the lonely bassoon solo in the first movement’s core, the music emerging from its darkest moments into a springlike ferment of joy; and the finale, with its great soaring horns – associated with a flight of 16 swans that the composer watched in wonder – is completely irresistible. Nobody knows better than Rattle how to milk this music for its emotional, virtually mystical highs, with dug-in strings, open-hearted woodwind and brass in full blaze mode.

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Season 2018/19 opening concert: Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, Britten - The Spectator

[...] With Simon Halsey’s LSO chorus now equalling his Birmingham choir for clarity, precision and expressive range, [the Britten] was a real celebration. Rattle kept it spacious, as well as sprightly. Clayton and Watts went at their ‘cuckoos’ and ‘jug jugs’ with heroically straight faces and, while the final orgy practically foamed with sap (Britten’s cow horn bellowed out from the circle), the earlier sections were punctuated by moments of intense sensitivity — not just to Britten’s grab-bag of texts (everything from Auden to The Knight of the Burning Pestle), but to his orchestral colours too. The chorus warmed its chords from within and merged its timbre with the shimmer of the vibraphone.

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Janáček, Szymanowski, Sibelius - Classical Source

The LSO tuning up at full strength makes a more fearsome body of sound than most. With an attitude and body language to match, there's never a doubt that once under way the musicians will rise to any demand made upon them, whatever the solo, corporate or dynamic spectrum.

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Season 2018/19 opening concert: Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, Britten - Financial Times

Britten’s Spring Symphony [...]foreshadows the community works that Britten was to write later and part of the pleasure is how it draws in young and old, including here the London Symphony Chorus, various Tiffin children’s choirs, and a well-chosen trio of soloists, comprising soprano Elizabeth Watts, mezzo Alice Coote and the ever more impressive tenor Allan Clayton. Rattle brought mystery and joy to this spring bouquet of poetry and music, which closes with a patriotic hymn to London.

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Janáček, Szymanowski, Sibelius - The Times

[Janacek's Sinfonietta] is still a fiendishly demanding work, with twisty, nightmarish high passages for strings and woodwind, and countless tests of ensemble and tuning. Some conductors play safe. Rattle is pathologically incapable of that. He drives the fast bits very fast and revels in the strange incongruities of a piece that ostensibly presents picture-postcards of Janacek’s home town of Brno, but clearly taps into deep feelings of national pride and anger.

The LSO, far from being fazed, responded with a virtuosity and energy that compelled open-mouthed awe. The opening and closing brass fanfares unsurprisingly shook the rafters [...], but it was in the inner movements that Rattle’s awareness of usually buried detail (even conducting without a score) proved revelatory.

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Season 2018/19 opening concert: Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, Britten - Classical Source

It may be September and the summer in decline towards autumn, but the start of the London Symphony Orchestra’s concert schedule for 2018-19 looked to the season of beginnings and awakenings with Britten’s Spring Symphony (1948-9) as the climax of this programme. The fine trio of vocal soloists did more than justice to the different registers and moods of the various texts set (mainly Elizabethan and seventeenth-century) – Elizabeth Watts brimming with light and sparkle in her few contributions; Alice Coote richer toned and questioning for Herrick’s ‘Welcome, Maids of Honour’ and Auden’s ‘Out on the Lawn’; and Allan Clayton sturdy and lyrical, whilst bringing great alacrity to Richard Barnfield’s ‘When will my May come?’.

[There was] vivid detail pointed up by Simon Rattle and the LSO, with alternately atmospheric soundscapes and strongly-driven celebrations of the incoming of warmth and new life [...].

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Dvořák, Janáček, Britten - Classical Source

While the LSO delivered its virtuosity with insouciant ease, Rattle conveyed its power and vitality.

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Season 2018/19 opening concert: Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, Britten - The Times

Britten’s Spring Symphony isn’t done often [...]. Rattle sharpened the edges of the score and galvanised his forces, which included the tenor Allan Clayton, the mezzo Alice Coote and the soprano Elizabeth Watts (all excellent), as well as assorted, joyous Tiffin’s school choirs, so many that they were treading on our toes in the stalls. We’re heading for winter, but in Rattle’s LSO it seems to be permanent spring.

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