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MSO Plays Das Lied von der Erde

Andrea Gillum

A heart-achingly wondrous night from The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, wine included.
MSO Plays Das Lied von der Erde

Sir Andrew Davis, conductor Das Lied Von Der Erde image via MSO.

Two brilliantly matched pieces, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony No.8 and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, made up an extraordinary feast of seductive and wild music at Hamer Hall.

Unfinished Symphony No.8 has only two movements – speculations on the reasons it was never finished range from Schubert wanting to concentrate on writing opera to the piece being perfect as it is. It doesn’t end abruptly but you do find yourself suddenly blinking in the daylight when you had been gently floating under water. The MSO infused Unfinished Symphony with charisma and charm – it was an entrancing joy. It left the feeling that anything might happen – expertly setting the scene for the rest of the evening.

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A lot of Mahler’s work is adventurous and Das Lied von der Erde is the epitome of this. It was written as a six-song cycle but combined with symphonic elements morphing into something astounding. Mahler wrote this work during an intensely emotional time after the loss of his daughter and his mother-in-law. He also had heart trouble (but not as is startlingly evident) trouble with his creative heart. Parts of this piece ache. The ache is flung from the orchestra and drips from the walls over the audience. And then comes the dancing, the drinking and the love.

Das Lied von der Erde means The Song of the Earth and contains six songs – ‘The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow’, ‘The Lonely Man in Autumn’, ‘Of Youth’, ‘Of Beauty’, ‘The Drunken Man in Spring’ and ‘The Farewell’. The general theme is one of the extreme beauty of the world and how we should spend our fleeting time upon it drinking wine and dancing. The songs are based loosely on Chinese poetry and are written for two alternating soloists. 

When Tenor, Stuart Skelton and Mezzo-Soprano, Catherine Wyn-Rogers stepped onto the stage they exuded a reassuring presence. They commanded our attention and held it. From Skelton’s first full volume notes we were his. Equally Wyn-Rogers wrapped us in her voice and we were pulled willingly along to the famously intense and unsettling Farewell.

The performance was cinematic (echoes of John Williams assuaged me frequently). The orchestra flew from wild dancing highs to meanderingly haunting depths and back again. The woodwind soared and caressed the score, the double bass gnawed and rumbled until the violins faded, the bells sounded and finally, the pause – bows held aloft in a perfect still life. It was epic and I felt we were witnessing something profound.

There was a skip, a dance in my step as I left the theatre. I stood, heart a flutter, the skyline lit up behind Hamer Hall, and thought – perhaps it is time for some wine.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Das Lied Von Der Erde

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Franz Scgubert: Unfinised Symphony No.8 in B Minor, D759 Unfinished.
Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Sir Andrew Davies - Conductor
Stuart Skelton – Tenor
Catherine Wyn-Rogers – Mezzo-soprano
Hamer Hall
29 June 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Andrea Gillum is a creative and professional writer. She often writes on the themes of identity and belonging. She is particularly passionate about the interaction of music, memory and place.

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