Choral Music, Orchestral Music Review Print



Fulfilling Performance of Brahms' German Requiem at UNC's Memorial Hall

April 22, 2008 - Chapel Hill, NC:


It is the last week of classes. Parents and families are in town, and Memorial Hall was nearly full for this concert by the UNC Symphony Orchestra and choral groups. In fact, there was still quite a long line at the ticket window after the 7:30 p.m. concert began.

The opening selection was Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra, Op. 17. Composed during the late 1930s, the work reflects Barber’s deep and troubled thoughts about what was going on in the world at that time. The musical essay...

introduces a “thesis,” stated first in the flute (with modal inflections). Barber then exchanges solo flute for solo bass clarinet before full woodwinds enter the texture, developing the initial thesis into a more substantial theme. The [s]trings overtake the woodwinds and offer a more agitated second theme. With a sharp chord, Barber signals the beginning of a third, fugal section that recalls the Essay’s opening fanfare. Barber ultimately layers all three themes together in intricate counterpoint before concluding the work with an extended, chorale-like coda. (From program notes by Jeff Wright.)

Regrettably, your reviewer did not get into the lobby in time to be seated for the Barber. However, what was heard through the crack in the door was fully up to the high standards established by Maestro Kalam and his capable young charges in previous performances.

For the featured work on the program, Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45), the orchestra was joined by the Carolina Choir, the UNC Chamber Singers, the UNC Men’s Glee Club (Daniel Huff, director), and the UNC Women’s Glee Club (Sue Klausmeyer, director). The soloists were soprano Jeanne Fischer and baritone Valentin Lanzrein, both of whom joined the UNC voice faculty in 2006. Susan Klebanow, Director of Choral Activities at UNC-Chapel Hill, conducted the performance.

From the age of seven, when he wrote his first musical ideas, Brahms had his own unique style of composition and his own unique sound. Over the years, the influences of all he met added to, shaped, and molded that style, from Bach and Beethoven to the gypsy melodies introduced to him by the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi, the men’s choral clubs he conducted, the great violinist Joseph Joachim, Robert and Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt and others. Though Brahms was not a deeply religious man, the death of Robert Schumann in 1856 had a profound effect on him. A year later he began work on his choral masterpiece, Ein deutsches Requiem. It was not completed until he added the fifth section, "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit" ("And ye now therefore have sorrow"), in memory of his mother, who died in 1865. The first performance of the final version took place in Leipzig February 18, 1869. The title implies no nationalistic intent but is merely the assertion that the text is in German, from the Lutheran Bible, rather than the traditional Roman Catholic Latin.

From its first performance to today it has been a favorite of community choral groups and audiences alike; it is as frequently performed as any other major choral work in the repertoire. Its overwhelming message of promise and hope resonates with the human condition to which we are all born, the incompleteness of life, the losses we all endure, the empty spaces left by those we loved who are now gone. Brahms, like all great artists, speaks for us and to us in his music, and he nurtures what is best in us and what enables us to endure.

In this performance, the chorus was especially responsive to the conductor, producing balanced swells and decrescendos. The orchestra produced Brahms’ unique, mellow, and rich sound, and the soloists were true to their tasks, musically and emotionally. There is no doubt that Brahms would have approved and blessed this performance. All those parents and the public hearing this performance surely left Memorial Hall proud and fulfilled, at least for a time.

Edited/corrected 4/28/08.