Gustav Mahler wrote his dramatic legend, "Das klagende Lied," or The Song of Mourning, when he was 20 and revised it nearly 20 years later. On Saturday night it was heard in Washington for the first time when Julius Rudel presented it in the Kennedy Center with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the choral forces of Cornell University.

The hour-long Lied foreshadows much that we know in the largest symphonies and song cycles of Mahler. It calls for large chorus and added orchestral resources -- an offstage band during the wedding festivities -- and four soloists. It is a ballad of betrayal in which brother kills brother in order to win the love of a cold-hearted queen.

The music is full of what we now call Mahlerian touches. There are arching vocal lines, huge choral passages and washes of dramatic color throughout the orchestra. Rudel led the large affair with great effect, making the most of the shifts in moods conveyed in changes in tempo as well as harmonic surprises. In ballad-like fashion, most of the singing was at a moderate pace.

The chorus's youthful sound was appropriate to the ages of the principals in the poem, their singing a tribute to the excellent training of Thomas Sokol. The four soloists were admirable, with Joseph Evans proving an invaluable addition to the concert circuit. His gleaming voice, well known for its operatic expertise, was a constant pleasure as was his fluent, clear enunciation. Contralto Ortrun Wenkel had a remarkable sound throughout the wide required range, and soprano Esther Hinds sang with lustrous beauty. Bass Andrew Schultze had little to sing but sang it well.

Rudel preceded the Mahler with Ulysses Kay's early and effectively written overture, "Of New Horizons," and, as an ideal prelude to the early Mahler, Schubert's Unfinished Symphony played with affectionate beauty by all hands.