Photo, Mark Allan

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

For Simon Rattle’s final UK concert as the LSO’s music director (to be followed by imminent appearances in Berlin and Bucharest with the orchestra while he still holds the position), whether it had to be Mahler Nine, or could have been something else, is academic. He currently has three recordings of Mahler’s ultimate completed Symphony under his belt – Vienna, Berlin and, most recently, Munich, – and it’s been an enduring concert choice for him. On this Proms occasion, Rattle, without placing burdens on the music not already present, brought out the funereal tolling, faltering heartbeats and the volatility of the first movement, and then ensured that the country dances of the next one were in opposition, framed by a pesante introduction and signed off with an ironic piccolo. The emotional indifference of the ‘Rondo-Burleske’ – city life – was well conveyed, less so the spiritual flight of the central section, although the unstoppable coda certainly took us to the abyss, with – following after just a few seconds – the slow Finale exuding much gravitas and magnitude (albeit sometimes the occasion seemed to overwhelm the performance), the fading of the light to nothingness achieved with supreme control and sensitivity to a well-held silence completing this eighty-minute ‘farewell’ if with two more Ninths to go and, anyway, Rattle’s very final concert as LSO music director is Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, August 31 at the George Enescu Festival.

To open the Prom, Rattle reprised his April invitation to the BBC Singers to also take part – with Poulenc’s Figure humaine, a World War II anti-occupation a cappella piece of emotional extremes and a wide variety of tempos and dynamics, which Sir Simon played to the full. It’s also very challenging to perform, the Singers rising heroically to the hurdles. An interval longer than the music now occurred, which would have been better avoided.