Mezzo-soprano Kelley OâConnor wistfully sang the German text, âEwig, ewigâ â âForever and everâ â accompanied by a glimmering celesta, as the music of Mahlerâs extraordinary âSong of the Earthâ grew ever more radiant.
It was a poignant conclusion to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestraâs remarkable, hour-long journey through Mahlerâs symphonic song cycle, âDas Lied von der Erde.â Fridayâs performance in the Taft Theatre was conducted by Louis LangrÃ©e and graced by a pair of remarkable soloists: OâConnor 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.Â LangrÃ©e accomplished much to lead a musically rich and inspiring performance, despite the Taftâs challenging acoustics.Â (From my seat, inner details in the orchestra sometimes were muddy or nonexistent. Thankfully, the orchestraâs home, Music Hall, reopens in October after a 16-month renovation.)
The orchestraâs playing was precise and rewarding, from the horn calls and pounding timpaniÂ 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 Mahlerâs 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 âDas Lied von der Erdeâ 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, âDer Abschiedâ â âThe Farewell.â
All of this is colored by the Austrian composerâs 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, LangrÃ©eâs reading was both sweeping and deeply felt as he expertly traversed its peaks and valleys. He vigorously swept up his forces in the opening âDrinking Song,â launching the listener immediately into Mahlerâs sound world of gleaming horns and searing trumpets.
And what a partner he had in Skelton. The Australian tenor, who earned a masterâs degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, recently sang Tristan in the Metropolitan Operaâs âTristan and Isoldeâ and has recorded âDas Liedâ twice.
He attacked âThe Drinking Songâ with…