Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit

Carnegie Hall sent me and the Beloved Flatmate a flyer advertising "A Transcendent Evening of Brahms," to feature the Alto Rhapsody, with Stephanie Blythe, and the Deutsches Requiem with soloists Erin Morley and Eric Owens; to these blandishments we were far from indifferent.  The first piece on the program was the rhapsody, a piece with which I was unfamiliar (and the program notes provided very little help.)  Subsequent attempts at research turned up fairly little (Wikipedia page here, "detailed listening guide" here.)  The Cambridge Companion to Brahms will be my next stop.  Update: see the comments section for a fascinating (and conveniently accessible) reference provided by Zerbinetta.  The evocative text was excerpted from Harzreise im Winter.  I do love Goethe, but I would never have guessed he could remind me so much of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.  Maybe it was the setting.  Stephanie Blythe is maintaining her perfect record of being fabulous when I've heard her.   She here produced an almost chilly sound, without sacrificing fullness, remote, while still compassionate; the voice of a Miltonian angel, perhaps.  The transition to a plea for divine mercy at the end seemed almost abrupt, given the bleakness of what had gone before, but she characterized it with equal conviction.

Without an intermission, we continued to the Brahms Requiem.  Let me say at the outset that I love this piece.  The Klemperer recording was a staple of my Respected Father's respectable music collection, and familiarity has done nothing but breed greater respect and love.  And Brahms' use of the vigorous Luther texts just enchants me.  However, the evening was not the experience I hoped for.  The Collegiate Chorale, under their conductor James Bagwell, failed to impress me.  The exquisite poignancy, the profound compassion, and the sense of cosmic import for which I love Brahms' piece... were not communicated.  Final consonants tended to be distractingly staggered.  The music, of course, was still beautiful; but the emotional punch and the musical precision which I had hoped for were lacking.

The sixth movement, "Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Stadt," was, I thought, the closest to mustering a sense of urgency and a really rich sound. (A friend visiting from out of town, who also managed to nab a ticket, hypothesized that this represented the moment when the amateur component of this mostly-professional chorus got over their nerves and sang out.)  The soloists were bright spots.  I thought the earthy warmth of Eric Owens' voice nicely suited to the "Herr, lehre doch mich," making it sound more like a private prayer than a text read from a lectern.  He didn't seem as engaged, and therefore not as engaging, as I have come to happily expect from him; four days off Alberich is hardly what I would call an easy transition time, though.  Erin Morley was a soprano with whom I was unfamiliar (it seems she sang the role of the Daughter in last season's The Nose, but as I admitted at the time, I wasn't able to pull many impressions of individual performances out of Shostakovich's dense score.)  She has a pleasing, warm tone which served the compassion of her texts well.  All in all, however, I am sorely tempted to buy a ticket to hear the Dresdener Staatskapelle do it (properly) at Lincoln Center in a few weeks' time.

1 comment:

  1. Noooo! Not Wikipedia! Try Brahms Studies Volume 3 for the Alto Rhapsody!
    Too bad about the Requiem... I can't imagine that piece not working but I guess it can.


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