A concert segment conducted by Gunther Schuller focuses on big band classics.
Here are Peltz's notes on the Mahler work.
Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866) was in his time a noted scholar and important man of letters. Poet, author, scholar, and linguist (especially expert in oriental literature and languages) he was, alongside Rilke, Goethe, and Heine, a favored poet for composers in the 19th century (although his skill as a poet has been considered much below these others). Mahler found in Rückert a voice in resonance with his own; the Kindertotenlieder are Rückert poems.
A set of five songs set in 1901–1902, the Rückert-Lieder are not a true cycle in which each song is employed as a link in a connected narrative. In fact, their lack of interdependence is evidenced by the fact that Mahler often reordered the sequence or left out numbers for different performances. In this cycle, the songs are connected by their sensibility; each is highly personal, reflective, and intimate.
Um Mitternacht (At Midnight) works on two levels: one psychological, one religious. The first strophes are an introspective search for solace and answers at midnight, the dark hour of the soul. Mahler’s music leads us down paths of descending scales deep into the psyche, with the firmament as metaphor for a dark and expansive psyche, each strophe descending further down and out into that expanse. Only the reoccurring bridge in the major tonality, played slightly faster, keeps one from finding too soon a despairing bottom.
In the last verse, however, the psychological exploration morphs into a religious one—isn’t this the voice of the Christ on the cross? Is it the speaker’s own time spent in midnight or the three days “descended into hell” of the Credo? Is the final blaze of triumphant music and benedictory plagal cadence a human triumph over the midnight darkness of one’s psyche, or the triumph of divine power?
Mahler’s scoring is unique here—no strings are present, rather it is all the dark and vocal woodwinds, resonant and individual in their colors. And for the plaintive cries, he returns to an instrument Bach favored in his Passions: the oboe d’amore. It is a dark soprano with a distinct vocal husk, making it more human and less elegant than the English horn, which would have been a more stereotypical, and thus less Mahler-like, choice.