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LSO/Rattle review – Berg and Beethoven see all on top form but something was missing | Music

Throughout this 250th-anniversary year conductors will doubtless come up with any number of ingenious ways of performing Beethoven’s music alongside that of other composers. Simon Rattle’s opening gambit is to pair it with Berg. On Sunday he will precede a rare performance of the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives with Berg’s Violin Concerto, while in this programme with the London Symphony Orchestra three early Berg works were followed by Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.

Since leaving the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1998, Rattle’s returns to Symphony Hall have been special events, and there was a very enthusiastic near-capacity audience for this one, too. But it was not quite the memorable, revelatory experience some might have anticipated, even though the LSO were on top form, as they invariably are for their music director.

In his element ... Simon Rattle.

In his element … Simon Rattle. Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

The real treat came first with Berg’s Seven Early Songs, in which the young composer’s efforts – written before he studied with Schoenberg, and revealing Richard Strauss as just as important an influence as Mahler – are reflected through the mature composer’s sound world. The soprano soloist was Dorothea Röschmann, savouring every word in the most lustrous honeyed tones, and Rattle was in his element refining the orchestral textures around her.

Preceded by an unfinished Passacaglia, which is all that survives of a projected symphony that Berg began writing just before them, the Three Orchestral Pieces were impressive from a technical viewpoint, too, with every morsel of this teeming score exactly where it should be. But the result lacked the cataclysmic power that some conductors find in these pieces; everything was just a bit too civilised, a bit too controlled.

The Beethoven puzzled too. Though the finale was driven with almost manic intensity, with an over-prominent timpani leading the way, the earlier movements had sometimes been lacking in momentum, missing direction in the opening Vivace, over-moulded in the second movement Allegretto. It sometimes seemed almost routine, rarely a word one associates with a Rattle performance.

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