John Storgårds conducted the BBC SO at the Barbican in Mahler Symphony no 4, paired with short pieces by Lili Boulanger and Betsy Jolas. Lili Boulanger died aged only 24. How she would have developed had she lived longer, no-one will ever know. Boulanger's output isn't big enough to fully justify the posthumous reputation promoted by her sister Nadia. Nadia herself was so strong that the gap intensified between her students (largely English speakers) and those of Olivier Messiaen, whose students went on to very diverse careers, a divide still felt today. Eventually Nadia will be understood in context, and Lili appreciated on her own merits. D'un soir triste and D'un matin de printemps, written towards the end of her life, are slight pieces but have charm. Perfectly apposite in relation to Mahler's Symphony no 4 with its evocation of souls whose voices were cut short before their time.
Unlike Lili Boulanger, Betsy Jolas has reached 91, and has a substantial output, primarily chamber, many miniatures. Histoires Vraies (2015) is a relatively substantial piece: a concerto for two soloists, Håkan Hardenberger and Roger Muraro, and orchestra. The title refers to "true stories", talks of ordinary life, hence the idea of two soloists in dialogue with each other and with the wider ensemble. The orchestra provides a chattering backdrop . Nice langorous lines from Hardenberger's trumpet, imaginative sparkle from Muraro's piano. The overall effect is intimate, rather like overhearing a conversation in a busy boulevard café. Nothing radical whatsoever, and rather timeless: the world is going by, but we live on in the moment. Which, in itself, is no bad thing.
In London, we have four world-class orchestras and others in town and further north, plus numerous specialist ensembles of all kinds. Plus of course, we regularly get most of the big European orchestras, who are within easy reach even when they don't play here live. But we shouldn't take that luck for granted. Our "home band", the BBC Symphony Orchestra, is really very good: we just hear a lot of them and get blasé. This Mahler 4 with John Storgårds surprised me. When the BBCSO are good, they're very, very good.
Of the four high-profile Mahler 4's in recent weeks (Gatti, Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam; Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, CBSO; and Jakub Hrůša, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra) (Please read my descriptions HERE HERE and HERE), four very different approaches. All valid and enlightening. Storgårds brought out the pulsating energy in the first movement. You could feel the horses pulling the sleighs. The snow doesn't hold them back, as they surge forward. Vitality in this first movement is important because it provides structural balance to the final movement. Furthermore, it connects physical life with the simple physical pleasures that the child delights in, even after death. The resonance in the BBCSO strings a reminder ofv the darkness that is never far away even in this most sunlit of Mahler's symphonies. That resonance came even more strongly to the fore in the second movement where the brasses and winds called sour warnings, and the First Violin created the duality between the "earthly" violin and its "demonic" counterpart.
MGM timpani in the finale of the third movement, followed by lustrous strings and harps. Cataclysm followed by repose, a transition that signifies renewal on a new plane. The soprano, Susanna Hurrell, is pleasantly youthful. Light, bright voices here remind us that the child didn't live long enough to become fully formed. Thus the tragedy, as the orchestra strikes up, the BBCSO in full, vibrant flow. Hrůša's soprano, Marta Reichelova, is possibly even younger, but her cheeky enthusiasm created the part vividly. Gatti's soloist, Chen Reiss, is more experienced though rather neutral, but I liked the innocence of Hurrell.