Simon Rattle: ‘We’re blowing smoke signals’

Simon Rattle: ‘We’re blowing smoke signals’


norman lebrecht

December 19, 2020

Against enormous odds, the London Symphony Orchestra and music director Sir Simon Rattle succeeded this week in recording the five Beethoven piano concertos with Krystian Zimerman in LSO St Luke’s.

Slippedisc was meant to be there, only to be prevented by Covid rules.

DG had the cover image ready before the recording was complete and the streamed version is already out online.

Because of social distancing regulations, the orchestra was spaced right across the Jerwood Hall at LSO St Luke’s. Using protective screens, the string players sat 1.5 metres apart and woodwind and brass 2 metres. “Sometimes it feels like blowing smoke signals over a mountain,” comments Rattle. “But there’s something about the effort that almost suits Beethoven. The struggle is part of his style.”



  • Petros Linardos says:

    Zimerman looks here like an elder statesman, though he has played like one for at least two decades.

    The composer’s name gets by far the biggest typefonts: very appropriate.

  • For my the most important thing is that Zimerman will make all the concerts he has to do this year, later. I was supposed to see him last week and the problem is that I know that he don’t make a lot a concerts, even outside of Covid time….

  • A.L. says:

    I heard the audio of the 1st concerto and Zimerman’s playing is phenomenal. The LSO plays well and energetically if a bit thin and stringy at times. But that is Rattle being Rattle, imposing historically informed affectations upon an orchestra that is not in that camp. Why? Anyway, I look forward to the other 4.

  • Amos says:

    A bit off topic but in the age of COVID if one wants to hear the LSO play with passion and verve I would urge you to listen to this Istvan Kertesez-led live performance from 1966 in Royal Albert Hall The studio recording has been widely praised but this is imo live music-making at it’s finest.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I love Zimerman.
    Rattle? Meh…. and Rattle’s Vienna Philharmonic set of Beethoven symphonies was absolutely atrocious.
    A very dispensable set of records. Instead, spend your money on Zimerman’s solo records, such as his set of Debussy Preludes.

    • microview says:

      Which Bernard Haitink said was miraculous, in one of his interviews

    • henry williams says:

      greg I still do not understand how the berlin phil
      chose rattle.

      • Micaelo Cassetti says:

        Likewise, I do not understand how BH got the Concertgebouw job; least of all as he had to be shadowed by Eugen Jochum. Van Otterloo was allegedly hot-headed, but I think he should have been given the post.

      • MacroV says:

        Funny how every appearance by Sir Simon on SD prompts general trashing of his merits.

        Well, unlike you (I assume), the members of the Berlin Phil had multiple opportunities to play with him over a number of years and decided they wanted him as their leader. And once engaged, several opportunities to renew (or decline to renew) his contract.

        There’s not an orchestra in this world that wouldn’t warmly welcome a collaboration with Sir Simon, or that doesn’t consider it an Event (with a capital E) when he shows up to conduct.

      • Stephen North says:

        Because the orchestra liked him…

  • Dighnoel says:

    Not having seen him live since he stopped coming the the USA, it was a miracle for me to be able to watch his fingers on the keyboard, that he will have adjusted to his liking, and to hear the amazing sounds he and his piano produce. He was just a kid when I first saw him with the LA Phil during his first tour after the Chopin Gold Medal. Thank you, DG, for making this video available for his fans across the world!

  • Adista says:

    Thank God for this release, I was getting worried the world was running low on Beethoven recordings.

  • Rob van der Hilst says:

    FIVE pianoconcertos of Beethoven? SEVEN!
    For what about Beethovens early pico in E-flat major and his home-made version with the solo-part for piano of his violinconcerto in D-major?
    Lazyness in programming dear friends!

  • sam says:

    You go DG, keep making records for my dead grandfather.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Greg is quite right about Rattle’s Beethoven symphony cycle with the VPO, an inexplicable disappointment.

    An elder statesman, parrticularly a Polish one, plays like Ignace Jan Paderewski, their premier in 1919. Or the Czech, Jan Masaryk. I won’t even mention Helmut Schmidt, much less Harry Truman or Richard Nixon. Best stick with Paderewski.

    Zimerman’s Chopin concertos conducting the Polish Festival Orchestra are as fine as any I know, not quite xcepting Cortot and Rubinstein. Zimerman plays them as serious music in the tradition of John Field and Hummel, whom he surpasses, and Mozart, whose Romantic heir he is, paying attention to the innovations of Chopin’s falsely maligned orchestration: col legno, ranche de vache, pizzicati, Polish dance rhythms. at stately, even elder-statesmanly tempi, not too fast, not Rattled off.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      “Not Rattled off”! Good one, Edgar.
      And thanks for mentioning Zimerman’s Chopin concerto CD. It really is excellent.
      BTW, I’d pay money to go back and hear how Truman or Nixon played Chopin, if they ever did.

    • BruceB says:

      re: orchestration: First bassoon solos I ever heard in a piano concerto were in the slow mvt. of Chopin’s (both of them).

  • Pedro says:

    Zimerman is one of the two supreme pianists active today, the other being Argerich. His recitals are always a special occasion as are his too rare concerts with orchestra. Pollini, whom I have not heard recently, also gave very impressed concerts, specially of works by Chopin an Debussy and by 20th-century composers. I remember his performance of Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke X in NY in 1983 which was much better than the Diabelli in the first half. Pity that Lupu (and Perahia?) has now retired.

  • Marge O. says:

    Where’s Francisco Noya for this position. He needs to be offered the conductorship. Fantastic, passionate conductor. Enthusiastic with lots of passion. His Bruckner was incredible with the Boston Civics

  • Ashu says:

    Why on earth record them now, under such adverse conditions which will certainly harm the performance?

  • Edgar Self says:

    thanks, conductor BruceB, for remembering the solo bassoon in Chopin’s slow movements, recalling the one “introducing the offstage tenor” in Mozart’s23rd K. 488, his only movement in the key of F# minor, and I think a siciliano, also with pizzicati.

    I never undrstood criticisms of Chopin’s concerto instrumentarium, which ispowerful, innovative, brimming with ideas particularly for a 20-year-old piano composer. I also left our the con sordino passages of the second concerto’s larghetto.

    Greg, Truman played Mozart’s sonata facile in C at the Potsdam conference for Sofronitzki, who imitated it for his friend back in Moscow. There’s a video of Nixon banging out, and maybe also singing, an old tub-thumper. His first instrument was the violin, like the Thomases Mann and Jefferson, Nero, Louis Farrakhan, Jack Benny, Lorin Maazel, and Einstein.

  • Jean Haas says:

    We hope to postpone our Beethoven marathon with Krystian Zymerman in Strasbourg cancelled in May 2020

  • Edgar Self says:

    E vero, Greg. I was trying to think of Mussolini when I came up with Nero.