It was neatly appropriate that Sir Simon Rattle should make a rare return to the Symphony Hall podium on the day that the award of an OBE to the hall’s director, Andrew Jowett, was announced.
Brahms’ Third Symphony was perhaps unusual as an opener, but Rattle’s interpretative insights, together with the orchestra’s response to his nuances, made this a reading full of personality.
Some of Rattle’s shadings verged on the expressionistic, a trait there a-plenty in Webern’s Six Orchestral Pieces. These elliptical miniatures reward concentration upon every detail, every one of which was deftly pointed here, yet within an overall arching line. The standard orchestra was augmented by a huge influx of percussion kit. Extragavant regarding transportation costs? Perhaps; but the added-value of what we heard was immeasurable. So, finally, to Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony (though catalogued as his third, in fact his final), its leaping, joyous soundscapes so vividly realised here. Horns are all-important to German Romantic-period music, and the VPO ones rose wonderfully to the challenge. Rattle revealed all the music’s presages of Brahms (and, as in the Brahms, he ran most of the movements into each other with scarcely a pause), painting vignettes of Rhineland domesticity as well as rigorous Cologne Cathedral ceremony.