When Shostakovich once again cancelled the première of his Fourth Symphony in 1951 – he had completed the work some 15 years earlier – he complained it suffered from “grandiosomania”. Whether he genuinely had reservations about the music or was really more afraid of the Stalinist censor cannot be determined today with certainty. The Fourth is in fact a grandiose, not to say, gigantic opus. But its greatness is flawed, slipping again and again into the surreal, including dance and march motifs. In this sense the symphony is with regard to its style clearly akin to Mahler’s providing us with the opportunity to try to identify these similarities.
The spirit of Mahler also pervades the work which opens this evening’s concert with Simon Rattle once again at the helm: Berg’s Symphonic Suite from “Lulu”, whose whole conception amounts almost to a Mahler symphony with its lied elements and its phases of musical sublimation of decline and decay. There is a real discovery to be made in the central part of this concert with Dessau’s cantata Les Voix, with Angela Denoke and Lars Vogt as soloists. Dessau (1894–1979) was one of the most versatile composers of his age, writing twelve-tone works alongside film music (for Disney and Hitchcock, for example). His music has only been included in a concert by the Berliner Philharmoniker once before, when one short work was performed in 1970.