FITTINGLY, to end the 2021 Canberra International Music Festival, Gustav Mahler’s “Song of the Earth”, which according to Leonard Bernstein was Mahler’s greatest work, was on the bill.

Following the most painful period in his life, Gustav Mahler wrote his “Das Lied von der Erde”. This work performed was arranged by Arnold Schoenberg. The artists were Sally-Anne Russell, mezzo soprano, Andrew Goodwin, tenor, and the Festival Ensemble, directed by Roland Peelman.

The massively bright opening to this seminal work created a stunning beginning for the final 2021 Canberra International Music Festival concert.

Part of the festival ensemble with Sally-Anne Russell, centre, and Roland Peelman, right, conducting. Photo: Peter Hislop.

The depth and tone of this small-ish ensemble was quite exceptional. That was due to the quality of the players in its ranks, such as Sally Walker, Anna Da Silva Chen and Kristian Winther. While not having that massive instrumental sound that most are used to when they hear a Mahler orchestral score, this arrangement by Arnold Schoenberg had an expanded range of tonal colours with a greater feeling of intimacy.

Andrew Goodwin’s tenor voice rang out clear and strong with dramatic dynamics. His high notes penetrate and cut and his lower range, soulful and tender.

Tenor Andrew Goodwin… his voice rang out clear and strong with dramatic dynamics. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Mezzo soprano Sally-Anne Russell sang and played out the emotional content with a respect and feeling for what was meant to be portrayed. She put forward an honesty and gentleness through her actions and voice.

Roland Peelman conducts with much enthusiasm. His movements dance-like at times. He certainly gets his message across and feels the music intimately. A viewer only needs to look at Peelman to know what the music is expressing. He works up a sweat.

Roland Peelman… conducts with much enthusiasm. Photo: Peter Hislop

This piece bounces and revolves between joy and melancholy with music that jumped through many lively and delicious tones because of the wonderful arrangement by Schoenberg. The ensemble made it all come alive with their passionate and joyful playing. The poetic words of the songs come from seven classical Chinese poems from the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

The overall performance was dreamy, lyrical, robust and passionate. This was a fitting way to wind up “The Idea of Vienna” with the music of Mahler, a Viennese son. The 2021 Canberra International Music Festival has been a major success all around. The diverse music with much content from Aboriginal composers, singers and artists made this event even more appealing.

The quality of the local players and singers has been awe-inspiring. The superb programming and the event organisation with their helpful staff and enthusiastic volunteers have made the show an exhilarating experience.

The Canberra International Music Festival has shown just how good Australian musical artists are at creating a quality universal sound.

This article was written by Rob Kennedy from Canberra City News.