Classical review: RSNO: Mahler 4, Edinburgh

At the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

At the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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LOVE, nature and life and death itself were the foremost motifs in this rather curious pairing of Austrian and British music.

RSNO: Mahler 4

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

***

Conductor Sir Andrew Davis and the RSNO deftly captured the psychedelic view of flora and fauna Mahler presents in Symphony No4 where the instruments’ depictions are over-animated as if in a Disney cartoon. Skittish sleigh bells, chirping woodwind, steely strings and boisterous horns all clamour for a bit of the rousing tune in the opening movement. In the landler, a more sinister dissonance was introduced by leader Jim Clark’s more highly strung – literally – second instrument, with its seductive, deathly waltz.

The sumptuous variations of the slow movement set the scene for an unusually sombre, but nevertheless uplifting finale featuring the song Heavenly Life. Soprano Erin Wall’s beautiful expansive voice, impressive in both high and low registers, brought awe and wonder to this lullaby-like melody. Wall also beautifully articulated the dreamy poeticism of Berg’s Seven Early Songs set to a variety of love-inspired texts. Davis skilfully negotiated the delicate balance between Wall’s vocal contributions and the pared down orchestra, featuring instrumental pairings such as the harp and celeste, woodwind and trombone and strings and horn in this superb performance.

Both Davis and the orchestra delivered Delius’ hallmark English pastoral sound, defined by luscious, fulsome strings, and in this instance divided into nine parts and edged with woodwind and horns. But ultimately A Song Before Sunrise lacked focus and purpose and didn’t appear to go anywhere.

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