Conductor: Daniele Gatti
Brahms: Ein deutches Requiem
Diana Damrau: Soprano
Christian Gerhaher: Baritone
Westminster Symphonic Choir
After a nice Saturday afternoon spent marveling at the incredible possibilities of the human voice with Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez in Rossini's La Donna del Lago at the Met, I was totally up for even more exceptional vocal exploits yesterday afternoon with Diana Damrau, Christian Gerhaher and the Westminster Symphonic Choir accompanying the über-prestigious Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra led by highly esteemed and endlessly versatile conductor Daniele Gatti for Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem at Carnegie Hall.
Although Mozart's and Verdi's Requiems will always be the ones I could not live without, Ein deutsches Requiem, with its deep humanism and glorious musicality, more into consolation than after-life, is right there behind them.
Earlier in the week an automated voice message from Carnegie Hall had advised me to allow extra time to get to my seat as it was a sold-out performance, and there would be no intermission and no late seating. Yes, sir. So never mind the light snow that had started to gently fall as I was walking briskly down Broadway, I was just too psyched to even be bothered by it.
Using excerpts derived from the German Luther Bible and clocking in at about 75 minutes, Brahms' longest work is a model of detailed craftsmanship, stunning lyricism and subtle restraint, while still including a few starkly intense, but never overly flamboyant, passages for good measure. Of course, having such a beloved piece performed by the top-quality musicians and singers that were gracing the packed Stern Auditorium's stage on Sunday was a tremendous luxury, and the stakes - as well as the ticket price - were extremely high. But they were unquestionably met, and then some.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra needs no introduction, and their remarkably polished playing yesterday reminded us all why they have remained one of the top orchestras in the world for so long. The glow of the strings and the precision of the winds, the implacability of the timpani and the glistening of the harps, all superbly came together for a masterfully accomplished performance. Maestro Gatti was deeply involved with all parties and kept the music flowing sans score, but with constant attentiveness and non-stop energy.
The deservedly much in demand Westminster Symphonic Choir is used to high pressure gigs at Carnegie Hall and seemed totally serene about this one as well. They certainly created a startlingly unified sound that ranged from delicate subtlety, such as the expectantly hushed opening, to highly charged tension, such as the intensely dark "Denn alles Fleishes it wie Gras". Altogether, they provided a powerful human voice, proudly secular, but still profoundly spiritual, to Brahms' most personal composition.
German opera star Diana Damrau lent her crystal clear soprano voice to the rhapsodic solo of the fifth movement, which was added later by Brahms, possibly as a tribute to his late mother. Her all-around classy yet genuinely touching part, which dealt with sorrow and comfort, came out as a radiant ray of light.
Not as well-known, but definitely a consummate artist with much to offer, German baritone Christian Gerhaher offered naturally elegant and commanding singing, his voice beautifully conveying darkness and anxiety, but also strength and resolve.
The ovation was long and loud, and then it was back outside, where we resignedly found ourselves unhappily trudging in a winter wonderland... again.