LSO/Rattle/Hannigan review – Abrahamsen's masterpiece soars

Barbican, London
In an all-Nordic programme, the 2013 song cycle Let Me Tell You lost none of its ability to bewitch in a concert that also featured Sibelius and Nielsen

When Hans Abrahamsen’s song cycle Let Me Tell You received its British premiere in Birmingham in 2014, six months after its first performance in Munich, it seemed an almost impossibly beautiful work, conjuring orchestral textures of extraordinary delicacy and freshness to support its apparently weightless soprano lines. Further performances and a recording haven’t dulled that shimmering originality. If any work of the first two decades of the 21st century seems destined to embed itself in the repertory, then it is surely these settings of Paul Griffiths’s elusive, fragile texts.

Sung as seraphically as ever by Barbara Hannigan for whom the cycle was composed, Let Me Tell You was the centrepiece of Simon Rattle’s latest London Symphony Orchestra programme. It seemed as bewitching as ever. Abrahamsen’s textures sounded more sharp-edged than before in the Barbican acoustic, and an ideal balance between Hannigan’s soaring, tremulous phrases and the orchestra’s glinting, pulsing colours was harder to negotiate, but the sense of a work unlike any other was as strong as before.

Rattle framed this 21st-century Nordic masterpiece with two 20th-century ones: Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony and Nielsen’s Fourth (the “Inextinguishable”). His approach to Sibelius has become more massive and deliberately moulded over the years, and this account of the final and formally most radical of the symphonies did not move with quite the certainty it should. The ending seemed almost perfunctory, despite the undeniable power and majesty of many passages leading towards it. But the energy of Nielsen’s symphonic writing still suits Rattle well and he responded to the Inextinguishable’s intensity and conflict with tremendous gusto, which the LSO conveyed with irresistible force.

Available on BBC Sounds.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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