The orchestra, reduced to about 40 players, is largely silent (a clarinet, a horn underline intervals) as the mezzo introduces the young boy's state of mind: Riding, riding, riding all through the night . . . And courage has grown so tired and longing is great.
Gradually, strings join in as she sings, in effect, a melody made of the 12 semitones of a scale, but whose atonality is tempered by leaning toward the traditional B minor. Although the harmonies suggest austerity, brief and recurring melodies tug us toward traditional keys during this fascinating work, which changes from chamber music textures to rich orchestral sonorities.
Lipovsek's voice conveys nearly as much timbral range as an orchestra's - the low register, large and potent, the middle rich in conversational nuance, the treble brilliantly secure. She moves fluidly from one to another with no noticeable effort. Friday's performance was that of a narrator secure in her story's power; refusing to overact, she commanded Rilke's naturalistic idiom without resorting to musical or physical gestures or mannerisms.
Joseph de Pasquale strongly led the viola-dominated "Someone is speaking of his mother." Louis Rosenblatt's English horn heightened the drama of many
sections. The orchestra brought feelings of ecstasy and darkness to appropriate sections.
Energetic, transparent but not quite as rhythmically fleet as expected was the Haydn Symphony No. 100 in G major, the opener. Principal Jeffrey Khaner and associate principal Peter Smith nicely handled its prevalence of flute and oboe duos.
THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA
Wolfgang Sawallisch, conducting; Marjana Lipovsek, mezzo-soprano, soloist. Performed Friday.
Additional performances: 8 tonight and Tuesday at the Academy of Music. Tickets are $12 to $78. Information: 215-893-1999.