Orchestra, Chorus Combine for Emotive Performance
Knox County Symphony and Kenyon Community Choir interpret Brahms, Mozart.
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Audiences often interpret programmatic music differently than they would interpret “pure” music — pieces that have no associated “plot.” Programmatic works often seem so attached to narratives that their musical elements become simply artistic garnish.
On Sunday, the Knox County Symphony and Kenyon Community Choir, under the direction of Robert A Oden Jr. Professor of Music Benjamin Locke, performed Brahms’s Nänie and Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, two works with corresponding extramusical themes, in Rosse Hall. Both works dealt deeply with death and the reactions of the living to this ultimate end. Locke presented both to a rather large audience with great emotion, musicality and perhaps most importantly, great care taken to bring out the musical expression of such profound subject matter.
When Locke took the podium, he did so without a score. That he memorized two long pieces (choosing, it would seem, to focus primarily on the artistic aspects of the performance rather than the purely technical ones) is a testament to his musicality and talent, surely, but also a facet of his ‘lead by example’ style of conducting. The chorus and orchestra were equally musical, and it was compelling to see two ensembles that perform together only once a year mesh onstage. Perhaps it had something to do with the performance run of only one evening, but both groups brought a certain ‘live’ magic to the performance.
The first work, Brahms’s Nänie, written in 1881 as an elegy for the composer’s friend Anselm Feurerbach, is a setting of a Friedrich Schiller poem based on an ancient Roman dirge sung by parents following the death of a child. This delicate music drifted from appropriately melancholic clarinets, to an innocently pathetic oboe whose notes sailed upward and then down again.
When the Community Choir’s sopranos entered with their first line, “Auch das Schöne muß sterben!” (Even Beauty must perish), a poignant major harmony in the Orchestra’s strings underscored their utter resignation. Locke directed the brass, especially the horns led by the excellent technique of first chair Gian Garduque ’12, to play louder, more ponderous notes in contrast to the relatively thin texture that surrounded them. This added support seemed to bolster the tenor and bass sections of the Community Choir, which sang with added vigor whenever this occurred. The harp playing of Sarah Baldessari ’15 gave the piece a brittle quality, perfect for its drama, and timpanist Sanford Siegel’s lines, though rhythmically simple, lent a deep, stabilizing quality to the work.
Locke, a noted Brahmsian, interpreted the work beautifully, flowing within the musical boundaries of the conservative German master while highlighting his touching melodies and brilliant harmonic language.
The juxtaposition of the two works in the program was quite interesting. The second piece, Mozart’s Requiem, was written in 1791, though it was completed after Mozart’s death by Franz Xaver Süssmayr.
It sounded far more adventurous than its other German counterpart. Equally programmatic, the work is a setting of the Christian mass for the dead, meant to be sung during church services. It is a daunting piece, considering both its reputation as the final masterwork of perhaps the most accomplished composer in history, and its structural complexity and length. The Orchestra and Choir more than rose to the occasion. Their work was marvelously poignant, at times desperate, begging forgiveness in the Hostias, cutting and terrifying in the Dies Irae and Confutatis, or peacefully hopeful, as in the Lux Aeterna.
The 13 movements offered many highlights: the Choir’s opening chords in the Dies Irae were filled with wrath, fire and revelatory vigor, and Lux Aeterna, with previously heard themes climbing over each other, reaching higher and higher to Heaven, was filled with a new profound energy, as if each singer knew exactly just what a meditative, almost holy, musical pilgrimage they had undergone.
The soloists, Ellen Kaufman ’13, Robyn Rae Stype ’12, Julian Tancredi ’12 and Nicholas Hargreaves-Heald ’12, were fantastic. Despite their relatively short rehearsal schedule, their voices complimented both each other and the rest of the ensemble beautifully. Perhaps no better example of their stunning blend was heard than in their quartet work in the Tuba Mirum.
The Mozart piece was truly beautiful and an amazing accomplishment for a community orchestra and choir. The performers should be pleased with what they accomplished and with what they gave the audience. Locke’s control was once again stellar, though the conservative Brahms may have bled over into the Mozart. At some points, particularly in the Confutatis and Rex Tremande, the Choir could have been given more emotional range, and the Orchestra should have been given the ability to bring their own mourning or fiery qualities to the fore. However, Locke, the soloists and the ensemble delivered without a doubt an entirely memorable and gorgeous evening’s entertainment overall.