And now for something completely different? By general agreement, Rattle’s 2003 cycle of Beethoven symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic was inconsistent and hastily packaged, the conscious Haydnesque jollities of the First and Second symphonies – clearly Rattle had been listening to John Eliot Gardiner and Frans Brüggen – rubbing awkwardly against visions of the Third, Fifth and Ninth swept along by broad sweeps of Romanticism, like Rattle had also swallowed huge chunks of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Rattle is on record as saying that Furtwängler’s 1942 recording of the Choral Symphony epitomises everything genuinely great about the Berlin Philharmonic, its string sound in particular. And here’s the great paradox of this fresh Beethoven cycle, recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic in October 2015 – a decade on from his first attempt, Rattle has managed to make the yin and yang of HIP and a Romantic underbelly coexist and these Berlin Philharmonic readings sound less obviously indebted to its own heritage. “You can try to make [Beethoven] agree with himself when often he’s fighting with himself,” Rattle says in the bonus documentary included as part of the package. “But I have the feeling that the more plain-spoken this music is, the better it is.” Which sounds like he’s learnt to let go.

Rattle manages to make the yin and yang of HIP and a Romantic underbelly coexist

Indeed, the first two symphonies are noticeably hands-off interpretations where Rattle lets the music spill out of its own joie de vivre – okay, that’s certainly an illusion but this certainly isn’t the Rattle minded to finesse every single detail of Robert Schumann’s four symphonies. The Fourth Symphony, too, is characterised by boundless energy; but the way Rattle artfully constructs waves of energy around the bassoon in the prologue to the first movement suggests a more intentioned approach. 

Rattle’s Eroica, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies have evolved considerably since 2003 – now less micromanaged. The Eroica in particular, which launches at a tempo that would make even Riccardo Chailly think “wow, fast”, feels like Rattle’s lit a firework and is sculpting with fire; the volatility of the Funeral March is fantastically disconcerting. The Choral Symphony receives what could be described as a ‘sensible’ performance, but I don’t mean to damn with faint praise. Those supple harmonic shifts in the slow movement are masterfully shaped and the Finale pushes all the right muscular buttons. But I suspect Rattle has yet to make his definitive statement on the piece. And at this rate of production we’ll know when he releases his LSO Live Beethoven cycle – in 2027.

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