The Canterbury Choral Society, in conjunction with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, gave a stirring performance of “Ein deutches Requeim (A German Requiem),” Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms.
It is the composer’s longest work, combining orchestra, choir and two soloists.
The performance was richly textured, the chorus and the orchestra combining smoothly in all of the seven movements.
The orchestration leans a little heavily on the brass at times, and the two soloists were occasionally overshadowed by the chorus.
Nonetheless, the work as a whole was well performed and moving.
This work demands excellence from all performers; “A German Requiem” creates an environment of comfort in the delicately structured interaction of chorus and orchestra.
The first half, with a text focus on lamentation, balances against the comfort and hope offered in the last half.
Brahms uses rich, fugal elements and repetitive themes, balancing the composition in the first half against the second, even as he balances the orchestration of the voices with the orchestration of the instruments. There are no solo movements; the soloists are supported and answered by the chorus in both baritone movements (3 and 6) as well as in movement 5, the only soprano movement.
Canterbury Choral Society gave us a beautifully performed choral experience.
Soloists Terrance Brown, baritone, and soprano Esther Jane Hardenbergh were late additions; the original soloists mentioned in the program both had to cancel due to illness.
Brown’s rich voice was occasionally lost in the choir. This is partly the composer’s doing, and weaves the soloist into the choir rather than making the choir a backup ensemble.
One does want to be able to hear the solo line in combination with the choir, and that can be difficult in the lower registers.
By contrast, Hardenbergh’s lines were, for the most part, almost stridently apparent.
The orchestral writing of “A German Requiem” is some of the most carefully crafted of Brahms’ many works; it’s a favorite with the instrumentalists as well as with singers.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic, under the baton of Canterbury Artistic Director Randi Von Ellefson, performed to its usual excellent standard.
Opening with the low strings, the first movement places us immediately in a mood of solemnity, and the chorus begins with a thematic element that we will hear many times, tying the work together.
Brahms avoids the violins in the first movement, using the harp instead. In his original version, the harp is heard in the first two movements and does not return until the last movement; when the fifth movement was added, the harp’s more dramatic return at the apex of the soprano’s line became a notable part of the orchestration.
Brahms’ own notes suggest that the harp is the instrument he associated with tears; he originally asked for two harps — almost unheard of in orchestras of the time.
Harpist Gaye LeBlanc proved more than equal to the composer’s demand; it is the harp that delivers the last word after the great choral voice has stilled.
Rather than use the traditional Latin requiem Mass text, Brahms chose his texts from the German translation of both Hebrew and Greek scriptures; at the time this was the Bible used in Lutheran churches in much of German-speaking Europe.
He deliberately compiled texts that offer comfort and support and that avoid theological comment.
The dead themselves are not even mentioned until the last movement, where we are reminded that they are now at rest.
The libretto seems designed to offer rest from grief to the living; this helps to explain the power of Brahms’s brilliant work — especially when delivered well by Canterbury Choral Society and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
Braum’s, the event sponsor, provided free ice cream in the lobby afterward, which was an entirely different kind of comfort. All in all, it was a lovely evening of music.
— Anna Holloway,
For The Oklahoman