Symphony unites with choral society for success
24. Mar. 2007 – In the wrong hands, "A German Requiem" by Brahms can be deadly. There is a temptation to savor the luxuries of its textures and inevitable harmonies and slow down to a crawl, creating death by musical suffocation.
Musical Director Eckart Preu understands that Brahms did not write that kind of "Requiem," and produced a detailed performance showing that one can better savor the luxuries of textures and inevitable harmonies by focusing the music forward. Taking tempos on the faster side and maintaining an intense and purposeful attitude between movements, Preu encouraged the work to be felt and understood as a whole, and the message was received by the Stamford audience.
Knowing that we are in good hands with our conductor, the other significant variable in any performance of "A German Requiem" is the chorus. And the mark of a well-trained and prepared chorus will be that it can rise to the level of concentration and endurance required by this work during a matinee performance after singing the same work the night before. The Greenwich Choral Society, prepared by Music Director Paul Mueller, was up to the challenge and sounded invigorated as the work progressed. The text came across clearly and the choral sound was quite good, particularly when it counts - in the centerpiece - the fourth movement, Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How lovely is thy dwelling place, Psalm 84). This is a chorus that shines during extremes - it likes loud music, soft music and polyphonic music. Particularly memorable was the opening of the sixth movement, Denn Wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (For here we have no continuing city), where the choral sound matched the quality of the pizzicato accompaniment and almost sounded as if the singers plucked their notes.
Soprano Dawn Marie Wolski used an innocent and lucid tone to shape the line in her fifth movement solo and found expression by rhythmically hovering during expressive figuration. This was often effective but risky, as she occasionally fell slightly behind the tempo, which moved along briskly. Nonetheless, she delivered lines in that extraordinary text with an elegance that produced chills.
Baritone Henryk B-hm delivered his solos with a commanding sense of confidence. He punctuated his short phrases at the opening of the third movement and created the sense of a longer continuity. From a purely dramatic standpoint, I wish he did not sit so quickly after singing the line "Nun Herr, wess sol lich mich tr-sten? (Now Lord, what do I wait for?). Even though the baritone does not sing after this point within the movement, the chorus is answering him and he seemed not to listen by sitting down.
This was a performance of "A German Requiem" that was alive, vivid and full of energy. One of my favorite places was the pedal fugue that concludes the third movement. Preu created the perfect mixture of flight and friction in the fugue against a static and unchanging low D pedal. It seemed a perfect sonic symbol of the underlying set of values expressed in the work.
This performance found grace through balance.