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The Portland Phoenix
January 24 - 31, 2002

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**1/2 Simon Rattle/Kyung Wha Chung/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY No. 5; BRAHMS: VIOLIN CONCERTO

(EMI)

One misfortune in Boston’s otherwise rich musical life has been the recent absence of Simon Rattle from the BSO podium. The split seems to have been acrimonious, so chances are we won’t catch sight of him until his rst tour as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. This release of two live performances gives some indication of how he’ll handle the most standard of standard repertoire with one of Europe’s oldest orchestras.

The Fifth Symphony is a disappointment. Although the interpretation reflects Rattle’s interest in period-instrument style, it’s not clear why he’d want such a reading from an orchestra with Vienna’s tonal riches. The sound is raw and strident — particularly in the horns and timpani — and the reading works only in fits and starts. The first movement is suitably powerful, and the opening of the Andante is beautifully played. But the finale sounds abrasive rather than triumphant (especially the shrill piccolo), and Rattle’s tendency to overstress details causes the music to lose its collective momentum. This is no match for Carlos Kleiber with the same orchestra.

The Brahms is another story. Chung has always been an openly emotive and expressive performer, and here Rattle and the Vienna — this time back to their customary gorgeous sound — match her step for step. The result is an enthralling, almost violent reading. The first movement is full of drama but never loses sight of the musical architecture. The second is perhaps short on repose, but Chung and Rattle tear into the finale, capturing its inherent Gypsy wildness. The result is well worth hearing, though not for the faint of heart. As for the symphony, it’s reported that Rattle will record the entire Beethoven cycle in Vienna next year, so we can hope for better results then.

— David Weininger


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