London Symphony Orchestra/Rattle

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Miranda Heggie

Four stars

It is easy to see why Simon Rattle has the level of celebrity he does. Commanding rich swathes of brass with his right hand, while maintaining the most gently quivering violins with a slight gesture of his left, the Usher Hall’s audience on Wednesday evening were left in no doubt as to why this is a conductor with almost legendary status.

It was a meaty programme, with two big symphonic works. Opening with John Adams’s Harmonielehre – which loosely translates as ‘the book of harmony’ – the London Symphony Orchestra’s crisp precision made Adams’s minimalist score shine and sparkle. They played with a driven momentum through the work’s varying rhythms and moods. The first movement came to a stark, almost angry end, before the second began with a much calmer tone. The third – inspired by a dream the composer had shortly after the birth of his daughter – was angular and spiky, though also sweet and serene.

There was also a lot of rhythmic play at work in Rachmaninov’s second symphony, perhaps highlighted by having listened to the complex cross rhythms of the earlier piece. Played with a meticulous attention to detail, the orchestra brought out a rich palette of colour in Rachmaninov’s music. From shuddering lower strings in the first movement, to clear oboe, warm horns and smooth bassoon playing in the third, this was a vivid and insightful performance.

The bright, bold finale in the final movement, marked Allegro vivace was big and brash, though alongside its boisterousness the LSO’s signature sophistication was still very much to the fore.