Gone are the days when musical do-gooders tweaked the symphonies of Schumann to make them sound less stodgy.
As Sir Simon Rattle and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment amply demonstrated, there’s nothing basically wrong with Schumann’s orchestration, as long as it’s played properly.
It’s all to do with playing the right sort of instruments in the correct manner. For a period band like the OAE this usually means traditionally keyed woodwinds, narrow-bore valvelesss brass, and strings played with little vibrato, often on gut. Add a dash of Rattle magic and the process is complete.
The two symphonies in Friday’s concert – the Spring (No. 1) and Rhenish (No. 3) – exhibited the qualities that make both the OAE and Rattle such major forces as executants and interpretive musicians.
Rhythmic vitality, unaffected articulation and an open-textured orchestral timbre all contributed to a sense of freshness and spontaneity.
In addition to sounding terrific, horns rasped beautifully despite occasional blips, it also convinced musically. Rattle’s tempi, always full of momentum, and his ability to create tension from within the music, made everything seem so right and proper.
He brought the same qualities to bear on the King Lear Overture of Berlioz.
And how rewarding to see a near-capacity audience for a comparatively specialised programme that, on paper at least, lacked obvious fireworks.
Rattle may have moved on since his glory years with the CBSO, but he is clearly still a huge draw in the city that made him.