200 Singers ennoble the "German Requiem"

12.20.09
Donald Runnicles
Berliner Morgenpost

The biggest surprise of the concert evening with the Philharmonic under Donald Runnicles, the future Music Director of the Deutsche Oper, was the guest performance of the almost two hundred-voice chorus, officially the chorus of The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  In the “German Requiem” by Johannes Brahms it proved itself as a dependable, dynamic, gigantic instrument that lived up to the powerful proclamation continuously demanded by Runnicles.

But still more:  the Chorus articulated the German text with extraordinary care and sensitive power.  The excellent Berliner Rundfunk Chorus could learn something in this regard from their American colleagues.  Johannes Brahms’s “German Requiem” is no thicket of mourning.  It clearly expresses the demand for an appropriate musical approach to religious faith without following liturgical rules.  It is a work of the freedom of religious belief, built on the immense foundation of Liedertafel [song tables] common in Germany in the 19th century.  This guaranteed the success of the work to the present day.

But this also makes the work seem a bit dated, although Gerald Finley made every effort to avoid sentimentalizing the two baritone solos.  His soprano partner, the Finnish Helena Juntunen, could not match him with her full vibrato-rich voice, bordering on tremolo.