Large & Refined; A monumental experience: Donald Runnicles conducts the "German Requiem” in the Philharmonie.

12.20.09
Donald Runnicles
Der Tagesspiegel

By Von Volker Hagedorn

Can that go well?  Is it not an eternity ago that 200 singers filed onto the stage for an oratorio?  A monumental practice that is long obsolete for Romantic era works, especially for Brahms' "German Requiem" which in reduction and concentration almost resists the overwhelming potential of large form?

One dares question his own ears when, in the Philharmonie, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus begins to sing: There a word like “selig” is in such a way articulated that there is hardly a noticeable break between the syllables, as if the ensemble had grown up with the Baroque musical idiom.  There one finds colors of piano which are actually physically impossible with such large forces, for instance the infinitely tender interjection "Ich will euch trösten,” which allowed the soprano Helena Juntunen to sing more intimately still.  This choir, prepared by Norman Mackenzie, also displays a stylistic sensitivity which in angular compressions can foreshadow Mahler's Eighth and later in gentle confidence sound like a piece by Mendelssohn.

The Berlin Philharmonic deals appreciably with this intelligent, extremely text-oriented attitude that also describes bass-baritone Gerald Finley: never roaring, unrestrained in the tenor range, but pleading. Conductor Donald Runnicles is content there with the role of a reliable guide. The gestural vocabulary of the Deutsche Oper Music Director is utterly clear and easy to understand, but also assures that the uniqueness of the evening is a worthy realization of the music.  Sebastian Currier’s Harp Concerto (with the Philharmonic’s Marie-Pierre Langlamet as soloist) is a suite of well constructed tableaux, suitable for any vacation home: noncommittal arts and crafts with tonal centers through which a harp glissando gladly flows into a triangle ping.

After this Philharmonic-commissioned premiere work by the 50 year old American, Johannes Brahms is only to be discovered anew as quite progressive.  By the last words of the choir, one sees a universe as much unredeemed as free.  Shouts of praise for the exceptional singers from Atlanta.