Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado
Lutoslawski: Musique funèbre
Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Florian Boesch: Baritone
Sophie Karthäuser: Soprano
As life is obviously made of ups and downs, so was last week for me, when a nagging cold inconveniently kept me from attending I Puritani at the Met on Tuesday, effectively preventing tenor-of-the-moment Javier Camarena from being my (unsuspecting) Valentine. Maybe the ultimate first world problem, but no less frustrating.
By Thursday, however, things, and particularly my health, were definitely looking up as my friend Vy An and I got to shamelessly indulge in a scrumptiously decadent cocktail party at the Russian Tea Room before heading to the Stern Auditorium for a performance of Brahms' magnificent Ein deutsches Requiem by the Orchestra of St. Luke's and Musica Sacra, all courtesy of Carnegie Hall. And if my resolution not to drink any alcohol while taking cold medicine quickly evaporated at the sight of the champagne-stocked open bar, it all turned out for the better for everyone as neither coughing nor sleeping overtook me during the concert. Champagne does heal all wounds.
Written for the 10th anniversary of Bela Bartok's death, Lutoslawski's Musique funèbre proved to be the perfect opening for the evening with its small string orchestra, four distinct movements, bold dissonances and potent lyricism. It was short, but proudly stood on it own.
As conceived by the Orchestra of St. Luke's principal conductor Pablo Heras-Casado and impeccably performed by the terrific orchestra, the transition from the one cello ethereally ending Musique funèbre to the gently comforting first notes of Ein deutsches Requiem felt truly organic and seamless.
The remaining of Brahms' Requiem unfolded with total mastery, gloriously highlighting the profoundly humanistic nature of the composition. The splendid performance considerably benefited from Heras-Casado actively keeping the right balance between clear transparency and bright colors among instruments and voices. The maestro did not go overboard with Romanticism, but rich lyricism still thankfully abounded.
A personal favorite of mine, the seemingly solemn "Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras", came out viscerally gripping and haunting, inexorable crescendos included. Speaking of raw power, another resounding highlight, "Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg", later exploded with apocalyptic force and did not let off as the chorus was mercilessly teasing Death.
On top of the impressively unified chorus and the positively glowing orchestra, the soloists came through superbly. Baritone Florian Boesch sang with passion and precision, his phrasing consistent and poised, while soprano Sophie Karthäuser handled her smallish but challenging part with remarkable warmth and finesse.
When all was said and done, this commanding performance reminded us how, with its provocative non-liturgical German text and spontaneously engaging, openly beautiful music, Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem has had no trouble reaching and maintaining a timeless universality.