Saturday, November 08, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: Chorus adds to 'Requiem' beauty


November 8, 2008
By Janelle Gelfand

Brahms' "A German Requiem" can hardly be called a requiem in the traditional sense. Not a Latin "Mass for the Dead," it is rather a prayer to console the living with some of the most exquisite music ever written.
On Friday, music director Paavo Järvi led a transcendent performance of Brahms' "Ein Deutsches Requiem" with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the May Festival Chorus singing like angels, and two fine soloists. The small Music Hall audience barely moved for more than an hour during this deeply spiritual performance, which flowed through its seven movements.
Järvi paired the Requiem with Britten's "Sinfonia da Requiem," which he explained as being "a 20th-century equivalent" because it is also a work that reaffirms humanity.
The orchestra, flanked by percussion and organ, filled the entire stage in front of the 130-voice May Festival Chorus. Yet this was a performance that had an intimate quality to it, with the chorus, beautifully prepared by Robert Porco, singing impeccably in hushed tones. Järvi brought out the work's inner detail and conveyed its warmth as well as its power.
The opening "Selig sind, die da Leid tragen" (Blessed are they that have sorrow) was sublime, not only for the refined choral sound but also for the seamless balance in the orchestra. Järvi's view was spacious and serene, with pacing that breathed, set against galvanizing choral fugues and noble, brass-filled climaxes.
The heart of this requiem is the chorus, "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen" (How lovely are your dwellings), which was glowing, songful and deeply moving.
There could not have been a more striking baritone soloist than Matthias Goerne, whose voice was arresting for its dark timbre and whose phrases were richly communicative. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy projected a sweet vulnerability in her lines.
Järvi built momentum wonderfully in the final movements, and the chorus provided ringing cut-offs to the words, "Death, where is thy sting," and dark color to the final words from Revelations.
Britten's "Sinfonia da Requiem," which opened the concert, was a stark contrast. A work which moves from dark to light, it opened on a somber note, with long pedal points and dissonances in the winds. If the playing seemed insecure at first, it soon grew to a performance of emotional power and involvement.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. today in Music Hall.


Tickets: 513-381-3300, http://www.cincinnatisymphony.org/

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