United Kingdom Delius, Berg, Mahler: Erin Wall (soprano), Royal Scottish National Party, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 08.05.2015 (SRT)
Delius: A Song Before Sunrise
Berg: Seven Early Songs
Mahler: Symphony No. 4
I’ve written before on these pages about my difficulties with Delius. Not even Andrew Davis could open my eyes to the virtues of the Mass of Life, and I’m afraid I didn’t buy the Song Before Sunrise either. The wandering melodies struck me as rather gloopy and indistinct, while the main theme feels a bit dull, never amounting to very much.
I was more sold on Berg’s Seven Early Songs, however. These rich, lyrical outpourings are a long way from the atonal music for which the composer is famous, and some of the rich, shuddering orchestral effects are very effective, not least the anachronistically creepy Ode to Love or the beautiful climax of Summer Days. When they’re sung by Erin Wall they sound even better. There remains a creamy purity to her tone, with plenty of luxury that reminded me of her Four Last Songs in last year’s Edinburgh Festival, also with Davis. She seemed less willing to crest over the orchestral wave tonight, though, and she also seemed rather too tied to the printed score, as if terrified of losing her place. Still, she was most comfortable in The Nightingale, where the strings matched her with some gorgeous playing.
Some grasped breath control aside, she was also very fine in the finale of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, toning down her voice to match the charming naivety of the song, and surrounded by a welcoming cushion of orchestral sound that fitted her voice like a glove. Before this, Andrew Davis conducted the symphony with perhaps a little too much rubato in places, but that made it sound like a living, breathing organism, and it’s better to have that in Mahler than to have the bar lines too definitive. The orchestra, too, showed that quality, so important in a Mahler symphony, of embracing total contrasts of sounds. The string tone in the first movement was winsome and lilting, and tonally gorgeous in the Ruhevoll third movement, but the clarinets skirled in a manner that totally stuck out, and the Deathly violin solo in the Scherzo wasn’t afraid to sound ugly at times. If this vision of heaven was ultimately childlike, it had to pass through some rather troubling moments en route.