of Sir Simon to give such an intelligent programme,
performed with enormous enthusiasm. The juxtaposition
of two Schumann works – one well-known, the
other not; one orchestral, one choral – with
Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem
worked supremely well.
short first half contrasted Schumann’s Genoveva
Overture, Op. 85 with Nachtlied, Op.
108. Genoveva proved conclusively how
the use of period forces shows Schumann’s
much-maligned orchestration in a completely
new light. At the very opening, for example,
strings were warm of tone, yet textures were
pellucid and, later, hunting horns really
sounded as such. Rattle gave us a performance
straight from the theatre, the ideal foil
for the almost contemporary 1849 Nachtlied.
was a year of fervent activity, and this work
was written for a chorus Schumann had founded
in Dresden. The text (by Hebbel) ennobles
night and sleep. Rattle expertly brought out
the hesitancy of the initial moments. The
chorus (European Voices) was resplendent and
beautifully balanced, while the orchestration
was positively aglow. The setting itself is
warmly imaginative, the scoring evoking the
nocturnal subjects brilliantly (a lovely passage
of pizzicato strings near the close is particularly
the Deutsches Requiem that was magnificent
however. After the rather traditional, yet
in its way effective, July
Proms performance with the large forces we
are now over-used to, Rattle, by using a smaller
chorus in no less dramatic a fashion, revealed
it to be if anything an even greater work.
the period instruments helped – they evoked
a deeply primal feel to the orchestral opening.
Strings, pale and almost emaciated, prepared
for the excellent choral work. European Voices
was well-balanced in all areas and particular
mention should go to the sopranos’ pitching
in the higher regions.
underlined expressive devices to telling effect
– the Affekt of the neighbour notes on ‘Tränen’
and the tenuti on ‘Weinen’ on the local
level worked hand in hand with Rattle’s structural
outlook. By asking for less of a blossoming
than is usual on ‘kommen mit Freuden’, this
seemed more a part of the ongoing argument,
more naturally placed in the scene of things.
long second movement immediately took on a
monumental feel, but it was not heavy (a difficult
balance to achieve) – the lightness of ‘Das
Gras ist verdorret’ was inherent within it.
Again, the reprise of ‘Denn alles Fleisch’
was deliberately unapocalyptic – it knew its
place within the whole, as Brahms’ huge arch
form began to unfold.
sense, this was (if this is not a contradiction)
a very alive requiem – fugal writing
was vigorous, never dour. Words were given
full weight and diction was crystal clear,
but there was more than just this: the way
the chorus enjoyed the ‘Sch’ of ‘Schmerz’
told us that they were actually feeling the
very sound of the word itself.
were superb. Despite the lean and gaunt Dietrich
Henschel’s supreme attack and clear line (spot-on
start to the notes, unwobbly follow-through;
and how Rattle encouraged him to make the
most of Brahms’ anguished line!), it was the
remarkable Susan Gritton that shone. Interestingly,
that last time I heard her, Dietrich Henschel
also sang, and it was almost exactly two years
ago (Gritton took the role of Sandman in Humperdinck’s
at the Barbican). Gritton is just as radiant
now, her pure voice floating over Rattle’s
web of strings (just her very first note was
a trifle insecure).
was a performance that encompassed a huge
range of emotions, from rapt to, well, Brahms’
equivalent to the Storm of Verdi’s Otello
(I think of the ‘O Tod, wo ist dein Stachel?’
section of the sixth movement). In Rattle’s
hands, this was pure defiance in sound. If
pressed to put a finger on what made this
account of the Deutsches Requiem such
a resounding success, it would have to be
down to Rattle’s inspired marriage of structure
and surface (foreground/background). But Susan
Gritton’s contribution will not easily be