For his first collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the marvelous Sir Simon Rattle conducts works by two favorite composers, including the most famous compatriot of the esteemed ensemble, Antonin Dvořák! His symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, based on a folk ballad recounting a story of deception, magic, and revenge, opens the evening before magnificent mezzo Magdalena Kožená and tenor Simon O'Neill join the festivities in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth).
Compelling and boldly original, this work that Leonard Bernstein called "Mahler's greatest symphony" testifies to the composer's fascination with Chinese poetry, such as the work of Li Bái (701-762) and Qián Qi (710-782), adapted into German by Hans Bethge. Unusual instruments for an orchestral ensemble, like the celesta and the mandolin, transport listeners to the Far East, following in the footsteps of many 20th-century European artists. What motivated Mahler, though, was less exoticism and more the contemplation of terrestrial beauty: "The earth breathes, in full rest and sleep. / All longing now becomes a dream... The birds roost silent in their branches. / The world falls asleep." An undisputed masterpiece!
Song of the Earth genesis and composition
BBC Proms, 1988