Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor wistfully sang the German text, “Ewig, ewig” – “Forever and ever” – accompanied by a glimmering celesta, as the music of Mahler’s extraordinary “Song of the Earth” grew ever more radiant.

It was a poignant conclusion to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s remarkable, hour-long journey through Mahler’s symphonic song cycle, “Das Lied von der Erde.” Friday’s performance in the Taft Theatre was conducted by Louis Langrée and graced by a pair of remarkable soloists: O’Connor and a magnificent heldentenor named Stuart Skelton, making his CSO debut.

Part symphony, part orchestral song cycle, there is simply no other work like it.  Langrée accomplished much to lead a musically rich and inspiring performance, despite the Taft’s challenging acoustics. (From my seat, inner details in the orchestra sometimes were muddy or nonexistent. Thankfully, the orchestra’s home, Music Hall, reopens in October after a 16-month renovation.)

The orchestra’s playing was precise and rewarding, from the horn calls and pounding timpani to the stunning orchestral solos. There was also visual spectacle: The orchestra included two harps, mandolin and a large contingent of brass and percussion.

As with Mahler’s other symphonic works, his music combines full-blown orchestral splendor, intimate chamber music, folk tunes, a funeral march, and in this case, Chinese influences.

The six songs of “Das Lied von der Erde” are settings of Chinese poems translated into German. Their topics range from young girls picking flowers and “A Drunkard in Spring” to doom, terror and the final acceptance of fate in the longest movement, “Der Abschied” – “The Farewell.”

All of this is colored by the Austrian composer’s extreme circumstances of the time, which included the death of his 4-year-old daughter. He would die before its first performance. Yet, for the listener, its ideas of nature and love of the earth, humankind and death all merge into something universal.

On Friday, Langrée’s reading was both sweeping and deeply felt as he expertly traversed its peaks and valleys. He vigorously swept up his forces in the opening “Drinking Song,” launching the listener immediately into Mahler’s sound world of gleaming horns and searing trumpets.

And what a partner he had in Skelton. The Australian tenor, who earned a master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, recently sang Tristan in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Tristan and Isolde” and has recorded “Das Lied” twice.

He attacked “The Drinking Song” with…