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Festival of Song at the Austrian Embassy

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.

An das Lied Festival:

Charles T. Downey, An das Lied, Opening Concert (April 13, 2007)
Kindertotenlieder filled the second half of the program and was sung by baritone Robert Gardner. He began the first song of the set leaning against the very end of the piano and then moved up into normal position halfway through the song. Whether one likes his moving around or not, Gardner was acting to great effect. This drama quieted the audience, who had been noisily turning the pages of the translation booklet in the first half. Gardner demanded our attention and, with flawless coordination with the piano, told from the father’s perspective of the dark experiences of losing a child. The guilt, loneliness, and grief expressed seemed genuine. At the end of the contrapuntal Wenn dein Mütterlein (When your mother) movement, when the father imagines seeing his daughter with her mother and feels joy, which is then painfully extinguished with the realization that he had imagined her, a real tear could be seen welling up in Gardner’s eye. In this work, Mahler’s orchestration was not missed.

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Kindertotenlieder was the most heartfelt Mahler I've sung to date, due mostly to this factor, which we decided was better to leave unannounced: the timing of performing these songs while keeping in mind the events in recent news. Having once lived only yards from Columbine High School, the shootings at Virginia Tech were strongly remembered, particularly after the last notes were sung. -rg