Friday, May 05, 2000
CSO gives Mahler radiant moments
By JANELLE GELFAND
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Mahler considered his work, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), a symphony. But for superstitious reasons, he failed to number it.
This shimmering piece, part symphony, part song cycle, formed the major portion of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's season finale Thursday night. For the other portion, the CSO celebrated the music of William Grant Still with his Festive Overture, which won a contest for the CSO's 50th anniversary in 1945.
Like all of Mahler's symphonic works, Das Lied von der Erde is for an enormous orchestra. But ironically, it is one of his most personal works. Although Mahler was preoccupied with death, the text a setting of six old Chinese poems translated by Hans Bethge is full of exquisite images of spring. Scholar Deryck Cooke calls it a profound fusion of the ideas of death and nature.
The CSO, conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos and featuring soloists Petra Lang and Keith Lewis, produced some radiant moments. Perhaps the most stunning was Ms. Lang's final phrase Ewig, Ewig (Forever, forever), sung against a glimmering canvas of orchestral color.
In her CSO debut, the German mezzo-soprano sang with wonderful depth of expression. In the gentle and tragic Der Abschied (The Farewell), with its lovely flute obbligato beautifully played by Randolph Bowman, Ms. Petra's narrative was unforced and warm. She sang her wide-ranging phrases fluidly, and with a poignancy that echoed the words.
New Zealand-born Mr. Lewis was an appealing soloist with a ringing tenor. He approached the Trinklied with intelligence, imagination and flawless intonation. His Von der Jugend (Youth) sparkled with charm.
Mr. Lopez-Cobos led a sensitive and detailed performance, and the orchestra responded with fine playing, notably the winds and brass. Balance between orchestra and soloists, however, was uneven. More lightness and transparency would have aided the singers and made the performance truly luminous.
Mr. Still's Festive Overture is a buoyant work, exceptionally well-crafted and orchestrated, and brimming with appealing folk tunes. The CSO played robustly, if not cleanly, and the overture received a warm response from 2,471 listeners. (Mr. Still's daughter, Judith Anne Still, was in the audience.) One hopes the CSO will perform more from the substantial output of this important African-American composer.
The program's opener, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, was just too fast and on this program, seemed like an afterthought.
Retiring CSO personnel manager Rosemary Waller, former principal second violinist, was recognized for 40 years with the CSO.
The CSO repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall. 381-3300.
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