Conductor: Marek Janowski
Brahms: A German Requiem
Christina Landshamer: Soprano
Wilhelm Schwinghammer: Baritone
Another year, another eagerly awaited trip to Aix-en-Provence at the Festival de Pâques, whose admitted ambition is to rival Salzburg’s prestigious summer Feistpiele, a wish that the festival's powers-that-be may just fulfill sooner than later if they keep up the excellent work they’ve been putting out for the past six years. Among other proofs of a growing success, there were very few posters advertising the festival in the city this year simply because there was no need for it.
Although it is never easy picking a couple of more or less consecutive performances among two weeks, this year my mom and I kind of had our work cut out for us: For my third visit in a row, and my mom’s sixth, we immediately zeroed in on the obvious: Brahms’ magnificent German Requiem, and a rare common appearance by the Capuçon brothers the next evening. Et voilà !
So after an extremely busy day spent taking in the new multimedia shows about van Gogh and Japan in Les Baux-de-Provence’s Carrières de lumières, followed by another awesome lunch al fresco in our regular restaurant in the charming medieval village, we made it to Aix just in time to settle in our regular hotel, take a leisurely stroll to Pavillon Vendôme for the heck of it, and then head to Les deux garçons, our regular pit-stop, for another memorable dinner.
But we did not lose sight of our goal, and before we knew it, we were getting situated again in the Grand Théâtre de Provence to hear Brahms’ masterpiece performed by the Sinfonieorchester Basel, the MDR Rundfunkchor of Leipzig, Christina Landshamer and Wilhelm Schwinghammer under the baton of Poland-born and Germany-raised Meister Marek Janowski. And they call it vacation!
One of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers, Brahms’ ein deutsches Requiem distinguishes itself on many levels, but what has always grabbed me about it was not only its unquestionable musical grandeur, but also its inmediate accessibility to mere mortals through its use of secular German, and no lofty Latin, text. While I marvel at the stately beauty of Mozart’s and the operatic breadth of Verdi’s, I find Brahms the most spiritually and emotionally affecting.
And once you have German performers with a deep understanding of the composition like the ones we had on that evening, the result cannot but be a thrilling experience, and it so was. Although our row G seats were a bit too close to the stage for my taste, they were a vast improvement from our almost front row seats of last year, incidentally for another Brahms-centric concert, and there was nowhere else we would have rather been.
Throughout the evening, the impressively exacting Symphony Orchestra of Basel made intensely beautiful music that boldly rose and filled up the space, but the undisputed highlight of the performance was hearing the truly exceptional choir mercilessly tease death to high heavens again and again. The soloists fulfilled their parts respectably, especially baritone Wilhelm Schwinghammer and his subtly burnished voice.
When all had been said and done, I was not even upset that this was the only work on the program anymore. As my mom pointed out as we were leaving the theater, still happily dazzled but also fully satiated, nothing can possibly compare to experiencing that kind of music live.