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Simon Rattle: the best recordings

The BBC Music Magazine team chooses five of the British conductors finest recordings on disc

Published: January 18, 2020 at 8:18 am

JS Bach St Matthew Passion

Camilla Tilling, Magdalena Kožená, Topi Lehtipuu, Mark Padmore, Christian Gerhaher, Thomas Quasthoff, Rundfunkchor Berlin/Simon Halsey, Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle
Berlin Philharmonic BPHR140021

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In our age of period instruments and historically-informed performance, you wouldn’t necessarily turn to the Berlin Philharmonic and the progressive Sir Simon for a top-quality St Matthew Passion. But that’s where you’d be mistaken.

In 2012 Simon Rattle teamed up with director Peter Sellars to create a dramatic ‘ritualisation’ of the St Matthew, and in turn one of its most moving interpretations. The choir and vocal soloists learned their parts by heart, leaving them free to move around the stage, hinting at both the unfolding drama and Bach’s vision of two orchestras and choirs facing each other, bound up in their profound, prayerful journey. The sound quality is sublime, the singing and playing sensational.
Words by: Oliver Condy

Read BBC Music Magazine's review of this recording here.

Percy Grainger In a nutshell

Malcolm Wilson, Roderick Elms, Wayne Marshall, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
Warner Classics 5564122

One of my most vivid memories of starting off as a young, impressionable editorial assistant on Classic CD magazine back in the summer of 1997 was the sound of Simon Rattle and the CBSO's (then) new disc of Grainger orchestral works floating through the office.

The opening In a Nutshell, the suite that gives the disc its title, is a gloriously quirky piece, ranging from the almost-hypnotic 'Pastoral' to the boisterous 'Gum-Suckers' march. Grainger's exotic orchestration of Ravel's La vallée des cloches, meanwhile, soon had me exploring the latter composer's piano music. Wonderfully played and sumptuously recorded, it remains one of my favourite discs, not just by Simon Rattle, but in my entire collection.
Words by: Jeremy Pound

Ravel L’Enfant et les sortilèges; Ma mère l’Oye

Soloists; Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin Radio Choir/Sir Simon Rattle
Warner Classics 2641972

I’ve just been watching one of the first Simon Rattle and London Symphony Orchestra recordings to be released on the eve of their new partnership, a DVD of a scintillating French programme. Dutilleux, Delage and Ravel makes for a delectable trio. And it sent me back to a recording of two Ravel pieces that I adore: L’Enfant et les sortilèges and Ma mere l’Oye. I first got to know Mother Goose at the piano, but how wonderful to hear it in full colour, particularly with the luscious tone of the Berlin Philharmonic strings.

This account is full of fairytale magic: the contrabassoon Beast is deliciously growly, the clarinet Beauty dances gracefully, while the Empress of the Pagodas sparkles. Rattle first conducted the one-act opera l’enfant et les sortilèges when he was 19, and his affection for the piece shines through. The cast is not too shabby either: Magdalena Kožená, Nathalie Stutzmann, Sophie Koch, Jose van Dam, Francois Le Roux and Jean-Paul Fouchecourt revel in Ravel’s vision of childhood.
Words by: Rebecca Franks

Read BBC Music Magazine's review of this recording here.

Holst The Planets

Ambrosian Singers, Philharmonia Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EMI ASD 4047

When I was at junior school I heard Holst’s ‘Mars’ on the car radio and asked my parents what it was. They bought me an EMI LP of The Planets with its stunning NASA image of Saturn on the cover. This 1981 performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra was conducted by Simon Rattle. I remember the picture of the conductor with his big hair.

Whenever I hear the ominous 5/4 rhythm of ‘Mars’, I think back to this record and the intense listening experience, as it builds up to its thundering ffff – almost like the horror of a battlefield. I was told to listen out for the tenor tuba which Holst had imported from a military band. The record also introduced me to the other wonderful Planets, including the well-known tunes of ‘Jupiter’, the bleak chimes of ‘Saturn’ and the ethereal wordless singing of ‘Neptune’.
Words by: Neil McKim

Schumann Das Paradies und die Peri

Sally Matthews, Mark Padmore, Kate Royal, Bernarda Fink, Andrew Staples, Florian Boesch; London Symphony Chorus/Simon Halsey; London Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
LSO Live LSO0782

One of the first discs that came into the office after I started at BBC Music Magazine was this brilliant recording – Simon Rattle’s first on the LSO Live label – of Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri. Though little-known today, in Schumann’s lifetime this strange mythological oratorio was seen as the most popular piece he ever wrote.

With Simon Rattle at the helm, this fantastic cast of top British singers weave a web of mystery which captured my imagination, and has continued to do so ever since.
Words by: Elinor Cooper

Read BBC Music Magazine's review of this recording here.

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Authors

Elinor CooperJournalist, BBC Music Magazine

Elinor Cooper is a singer and choral conductor working in South West England. She holds an MMus in choral conducting from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and is now the music director of Bristol Singers, Collegium Singers, UWE Singers and assistant conductor of Bristol Youth Choir. She is the former editorial assistant of BBC Music Magazine.

Rebecca Franks
Rebecca FranksJournalist, Critic and former Managing Editor of BBC Music Magazine

Rebecca Franks is the former Managing Editor of BBC Music Magazine and a regular classical music critic for The Times. She is currently writing her first children's book.

Oliver CondyFormer Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Oliver Condy is the former Editor of BBC Music Magazine, a post he held for 17 years. His debut book, Symphonies of the Soul: Classical Music to Cure Any Ailment, will be released in November 2021 with Octopus Books. He is also a semi-professional organist, having previously given recitals in Bach’s churches across Germany.

Jeremy PoundDeputy Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s Deputy Editor, a role he has held since 2004. Before that, he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book.

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