The fifth of eleven concerts offered by the Austrian Cultural Forum’s An das Lied: Festival of Song 2007 featured the songs of Gustav Mahler. The schedule progresses chronologically from Viennese classic composers to those now writing 21st-century Austrian Lieder. The main works on Tuesday's program were Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) and Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), which were deftly accompanied by artistic director Thomas Bagwell.
As pointed out in the informative and well-presented program notes, these works are most often accompanied by full orchestra. In the program notes, Bagwell diplomatically encouraged the audience not to be disappointed with the piano accompaniments and instructed us to “listen with an open mind and you might be surprised to hear something in Mahler’s style you’ve not heard before” in terms of counterpoint and dissonance. Mahler’s vivid orchestration of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen was surely missed. Additionally, a sense of breadth was not ultimately reached by Bagwell and tenor Scott Murphree.
As both text and music were composed by Mahler, a complete ownership and personalization of text is evident. For example, there are certain lines that stand out musically from the rest of the movements. Murphree’s awareness of these moments and exploitation of them was dramatic and very rewarding. This and his clear diction made up for some weakness in coordination with the piano and a lack of intensity that demanded one's full attention.
Charles T. Downey, An das Lied, Opening Concert (April 13, 2007)
The An das Lied Festival continues through the end of next month, with concerts on April 28 and May 2, 4, 7, 16, and 24, most of which are free, at the Austrian Embassy.