The well-attended concert by the Portland Symphony Orchestra Tuesday night was an object lesson in the superiority of live versus recorded music.

Beginning with the Brahms “Schicksalsleid” (Opus 54), with orchestra and chorus conducted by Robert Russell, through the strange and wonderful “Gloria” of Francis Poulenc, to the final masterpiece of orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (Opus 35), the audience experienced tonal effects, dynamics and orchestral colors that cannot be heard outside the concert hall.

PSO Music Director Robert Moody said from the podium that the theme of the concert was storytelling – of a poem, the Latin Mass and “The Thousand and One Nights.” It was more like a treatise in orchestration.

The “Schicksalsleid” paints psychological sound-pictures contrasting the gods, lolling on the clouds in eternal sunshine, with suffering humanity being rushed over the falls and into the abyss. Brahms’ depiction of the immortals is tongue-in-cheek, its beginning dominated by a drum beat echoing Beethoven’s “V” for Victory. He must also have been aware of Goethe’s aphorism: “There is nothing harder to bear than a succession of sunny days.”

Adding to the irony was the breakdown of the supertitle projector just as the chorus intoned a fortissimo “Warum?” (“Why?”) during the suffering humanity section.

Brahms is always difficult to get right without muddiness, but chorus and orchestra gave it a good try.

It would have been a good idea to leave the supertitles off as well during the Poulenc “Gloria,” in which the translations from the Latin were clumsy and distracting.

The “Gloria” itself is strange indeed, almost as if the recent convert were trying to see how much he could get away with in the way of jazzy chords, abrupt sfortzandos and blaring brasses, all in a modern idiom that stops just short of being atonal.

It does contain some tender and moving passages. The Agnus Dei, for example, was both tragic and mysterious, and soprano Jessica Cates was at her best in the less fortissimo passages. All in all, however, “Gloria” sounds as if it were written for the coronation of Mussolini.

Its performance, by both chorus and orchestra, had much more clarity and life than that of the Brahms.

The orchestra saved the best for last – an impressive rendition of “Scheherazade,” with concertmaster Charles Dimmick as the voice of the storyteller.

Every section of the orchestra is called upon for virtuoso playing in this tour-de-force of orchestral color, and all met the challenge. Moody was able to build excitement steadily throughout, until the recapitulation of the “Sea and Sinbad” theme at the end was overwhelming.

After the last few gentle bars, Dimmick received cheers and each section of the orchestra a prolonged standing ovation.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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