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Posted by Geoff Diggines on September 3, 2016, 11:27 am
I watched the Simon Rattle Prom 'conducting' Mahler 7 last night on TV direct from the Albert Hall. It was a depressing experience. I could not discern any correspondence between Rattle's gestures and what the orchestra was playing. The Berlin Phil was certainly not on top form, quite a lot of messy ensemble! It was depressing to watch Rattle's grotesque grimaces, and rostrum antics. His facial contortions ranged from simulations of what looked like sexual ecstasy, to furious head tossing, with mouth wide open exposing predatory teeth, and with bizarre bulging eyes. Also several rounds of wild somatic gesticulations and crouching postures. I noticed that the players hardly looked at Rattle! This is what Adrian Boult politely called 'balletic conducting'. I also thought of Boult's very relevant observation that if 'a conductor does not have complete control of himself', how can he expect to have control of an orchestra? His point being that this antic conducting (if it can even be termed as conducting!) has nothing to do with classical conducting technique as practiced by the likes of Toscanini, Monteux, van Beinum Fritz Busch, Fritz Reiner, Erich Kleiber, and Boult himself. Also, such antics are a distraction to players, giving them no clear lead, or sense of structure or contrast. It is certainly also a distraction for the more musical listener/concert-goer. The performance of the Mahler 7 lost all sense of pulse in the first movement which sagged; it was sentimentalised with too much heavy vibrato and portamenti particularly in the strings. The 'night music' lacked clarity and contrast. The finale lacked structural cohesion. An earlier Prom with Haitink conducting the LSO in Mahler 3 with a minimum of gestures and a compelling conducting economy, produced much better results, particularly the playing, the musicans so obviously having great respect for Haitink,. And it was predictably, much closer to Mahler.
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