On a program weighted with Mahler (along with a charming subset of five from Dvorák's Biblical Songs), the Schumann might have seemed, at first, less multidimensional. But the piano in "Loneliness" evokes the spindly tendrils of a dark forest grabbing at a visitor who has come seeking answers. When a troubled couple walks through a garden in "The Oppressive Evening," piano and voice are pursuing paths so different they could be performing separate pieces, reaching concordance only upon a death wish.
Fink and Spiri constructed a program of thoughtful connections. After the "Requiem" that ends the Schumann set (with its harplike piano writing), Mahler songs followed an arc - "Spring Morning," trembling with imploring murmurs and bird trills, and then the horrific "The Earthly Life" from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. On a text from German folk poems, Mahler puts frantic music to a race between a starving child and a mother waiting for the corn to grow, be milled, and baked into bread. With the sounding of a piano note from the depths, you don't need to hear the last line of the poem to know how it ends.
Not to leave us in despair, Fink finished the set with the bounty of "The Heavenly Life" and its images of angels baking bread and St. Peter coaxing fish. "No worldly tumult," is how the song describes its realm. The audience made its own valuable contribution. No one wanted to applaud, a silence impossible to interpret as anything but gratitude for having been transported.
Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or email@example.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.