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M u i r

A l a s ta


p h o t o g r a p h y

‘What I love with the LSO players is that they show absolutely no sign that there’s a ceiling. They seem to be willing to try and explore everything’ SImon Rattle niting the community: Rattle rehearses Jonathan Dove’s The Monster in the Maze at the Barbican going to concerts. Hopefully, some of them were infected with the bug.’

The LSO and Rattle tested the water of including Guildhall students in its scheme of things by engaging four young singers in the performance of Schumann’s oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri, given at the Barbican in January in a concert that was recorded and is soon due for release on the LSO Live label. ‘When we do live recordings in Berlin,’ Rattle says, ‘it’s always from at least three concerts. And we have the possibility of a patch. Here in Das Paradies und die Peri we did one or two things which we knew were tricky in rehearsals, but in effect it was the microphones just catching us on the wing – one concert, and we did nothing afterwards. But this was in a way simply what it was. It was done with an enormous amount of love, and I’m simply happy to have it out there.’

Das Paradies und die Peri, which Schumann wrote in 1843 based on a German translation of part of Thomas Moore’s oriental romance Lalla Rookh (1817), is one of those curious 19th-century works that enjoyed almost fanatical popularity in almost completely disappeared from performance. The Berlin Philharmonic performed it a number of times in the 19th century, and then just once in the 20th until I did it again. To my amazement I gave only the second Carnegie Hall performance in 2007. The previous one was in 1902.’

‘Of course,’ continues Rattle, ‘the libretto is a period piece, but the libretto of Lohengrin is a period piece, as is Trovatore and so many other works. And because Das Paradies und die Peri was so loved and so often performed, it was also a seminal work for all of the Romantic era.’ As he maintains, you can hear pre-echoes of Wagner and Mahler in it, ‘but also one is very aware that Schumann was one of the first early music experts. You see how the music goes back to Schütz, to Bach, to all those composers who were in Schumann’s library. One of the things I find endlessly touching is that at the point where he gives a metaphor of what it takes to get into heaven or to be remembered or noticed, Schumann quotes Bach – the exact opposite, say, of Strauss in Ein Heldenleben. You learn so much about who Schumann was by this selfless gesture. And the score also rather gives the lie to the idea that Schumann had problems orchestrating. It’s so full of colours. In performance, because you have the words, you can follow the weight of the words. It simply cannot be performed gleich [uniformly]. It has to be phrased at all moments, and in a way the words help you.’

If Rattle was cavalier with Giulini’s advice, he took more notice of Gardiner. ‘He did exactly what I should have done,’ Rattle says. ‘He was in Leipzig and he found a vocal score and he simply played it through and realised how wonderful it was. I know of Das Paradies through him and through some of the people who played it, and they all told me, “You have got to look at this”. Back came my Giulini shame. Wherever I’ve taken the piece, the musicians have been thrilled by it. When we its day but has only in recent times re-entered the repertoire and become more widely known through recordings by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Giuseppe Sinopoli among others. Rattle, in that respect, is a comparative latecomer to the cause. ‘To my absolute shame,’ he confesses, ‘Giulini told me about the piece when I was in my twenties. He said, “There is this astonishing piece that no one plays, and really you should have a look at it.” And I didn’t. You can find a performance by Giulini [currently on the Arts Archives label], and ecstatically beautiful it is. But there are not many examples in history of masterpieces that have fallen into disuse. Maybe we have a slightly queasy relationship with the text.’ The text Rattle refers to tells of a peri [angel] banished from heaven and compelled to search the world for the purest gift – the tears of a penitent sinner – to earn her readmission to God’s presence. ‘When you read it now,’ says Rattle, ‘it’s impossible, but of course Wagner also loved it and wrote to Schumann congratulating him for taking it on. And in its time it was almost as popular as Messiah. There were choral societies set up all over Europe for the express purpose of singing this piece – including one in Edinburgh. And then at the turn of the 20th century it played it in Berlin, it somehow seared into us because the first performance happened on the day that a very, very deeply loved member of the orchestra died suddenly. We were all so shaken. We learnt of his death an hour before the performance. And listening to these words about a journey, everything seemed to be talking to us directly. Like The Dream of Gerontius, it’s a journey of the soul. And somehow the text made much more sense when you thought about it personally. With Schumann you absolutely have to think personally. He’s so different from Wagner. He has no wish to dominate. There’s a wish to be private – candid and private at the same time.’

The next recording project with the LSO will be Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in 2016, produced by Peter Sellars whose staging of Bach’s St Matthew Passion Rattle conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic at last year’s BBC Proms. ‘We’ll be able to do what Debussy wanted,’ says Rattle, ‘which was to have Mélisande die among the violins. Debussy had wanted the orchestra to be on stage, but no one would allow him, so we thought we’d give him his wish.’ If no other recordings with the LSO have yet been firmed up, September sees the release on the Berlin Philharmonic’s own label of the complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies. The BPO has history with Sibelius, because Herbert von Karajan, Principal Conductor for 35 years, was one of the composer’s most ardent exponents. But there has been a gap. As Rattle explains, ‘Karajan, towards the end of his life, didn’t perform Sibelius, and Claudio [Abbado, Rattle’s predecessor in Berlin] loathed it.’ Guest conductors, Rattle suggests, don’t want

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