Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem
May 3rd, 2008
Evangelical Community Church
SINGERS PERFORM BRAHAMS WITH PASSION
By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer
May 5, 2008
The spacious sanctuary of the Evangelical Community Church was just about filled on Saturday evening when the Bloomington Chamber Singers offered their challenging and rewarding program, capped by a performance of Brahms’ radiant expression of comfort, his “A German Requiem.”
Earlier, there had been more Brahms, “Schicksalslied” (“Song of Destiny”), and Samuel Barber’s fragrant, nostalgic “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”
On the podium for the shorter, pre-intermission pieces was the gentleman usually in charge of conducting duties, the Chamber Singers’ music director, Gerald Sousa, seemingly and happily in complete control after a serious bout not awfully long ago with the heart. His period of recuperation cut enough into the rehearsal schedule to shift leadership in the Requiem from Maestro Sousa to Maestro Julie Grindle, the ensemble’s assistant conductor.
Let it be said that the 71 choristers sang as passionately and capably for her as they did for him, meaning they sang ever so appealingly throughout the evening, meaning also one heard not only sweetly and solidly produced sound but sound flavored with implications and meanings.
A boon in Bloomington is that a call for instrumentalists to people an orchestra usually brings excellent response. And that was certainly the case on this occasion. The gathered musicians – including faces recognized from various IU and local orchestras – handled their critically important collaborative responsibilities skillfully.
The Requiem also required a pair of soloists, both trained at the Jacobs School: soprano Christina Pier, an alumna who won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has forged a budding career, and baritone Austin Kness, a current master’s candidate we’ve seen take on major roles in IU Opera Theater productions. They were up to the task. Pier’s brilliant top and beauty of tone fully served Brahms’ evocations of human sorrow and God’s eternal promise in soaring fashion. Kness’ lyrical instrument cut right through orchestral and choral textures; equally noteworthy was diction of such clarity that it honored every word.
Pier was the soloist for the Barber, giving emotional voice to memories of an American past at “that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street.”
The Chamber Singers sat silently through the Barber but were kept busy the remainder of the concert. They truly did themselves proud. First, they artfully managed the inspired melodies Brahms used to reflect a poem by Friedrich Holderlin about humankind’s ever present struggle with fate. With Sousa in command of “Schicksalslied,” one heard in their singing an encompassing range of emotions.
The “German Requiem” sets references about death and mourning, about solace and ultimate eternal peace, taken from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible. They fed Brahms’ imagination, as did the passing at the time of his beloved mother. The music he wrote is glorious. The choral demands are almost nonstop. Their realization, drawn out of the Chamber Singers by conductor Grindle, was at all times befitting.