DSO Gives Rare Performance of Mahler’s ‘Das klagende Lied’

by Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News

To spy six harps on the Meyerson Symphony Center stage Friday night was to realize sometime special was afoot. That something was a Dallas Symphony Orchestra performance of Gustav Mahler’s rarely heard Das klagende Lied, a massive work for six solo voices, chorus and a large orchestra plus sizable offstage band.

The texts are Mahler’s own poems, based on German folk tales — thus fitting into the DSO’s Soluna Festival myth-and-legend theme. A haughty queen has agreed to marry the man who finds and presents a certain rose. Two brothers, one younger and kind, the other older and bitter, set out to find it. When the younger one succeeds, but falls asleep, his brother murders him to claim the rose.

Finding a bone of the dead brother, a wandering minstrel carves it into a flute. But when he plays it at the wedding of the queen and the older brother, the flute tells the tragic story. When the king-to-be tries to play the flute, it accuses him of the murder. The queen faints, the partiers flee and the palace collapses.

This “song of lament” is very early Mahler, composed between ages 17 and 20. Apart from the occasional Wagnerian progression, what’s remarkable is how distinctive a voice is already apparent: forest sounds with twittering birds, folksong-inflected tunes, parallel thirds between pairs of winds and brasses. In the absence of actual dialogue, lines of poetry are pretty arbitrarily parceled out among the soloists and chorus.

Music director Jaap van Zweden made about as powerful a case as possible for something not quite a masterpiece. The orchestra played splendidly, of course, with horns finely polished from pianissimo to fortissimo and particularly eloquent solos from principal oboist Erin Hannigan. In just a couple patches the orchestra could have been a little quieter beneath the soloists.

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