Thursday, December 24, 2009

ASOC in Berlin: Der Tagesspiegel review

Well, Jeff Baxter, choral administrator to the ASOC, beat me to the punch on translating the review from the Tagesspiegel. You can read the original German here, or Jeff's translation below:

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

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 commences: 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 became large with Baroque tonal inflection. 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 satisfies there the role of a reliable guide. The gestural vocabulary of the Deutsche Oper Music Director is quite small, securing a dignified recognition but also the novelty of the evening. Sebastian Currier’s Harp Concerto (with the Philharmonic’s Marie-Pierre Langlamet as soloist) is a suite of well constructed tableaux which fit into each 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.

(Translation, J.W. Baxter)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ASOC in Berlin 2009: Berliner Morgenpost

This short review was a little bit easier for me :) For the original German, click here. For my English translation, read on!
200 singers ennoble the "Deutsche Requiem"

The greatest surprise of the evening with the Philharmoniker under Donald Runnicles, the henceforth music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, was the guest appearance of the almost 200-head chorus that is otherwise a part of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The choir revealed itself in Brahms’ “Deutsches Requiem” as an authoritative, intensity-creating massive instrument that rose completely to the powerful rendition that Runnicles consistently demanded of it.

More still: the choir articulated the German text with extraordinary care and empathy. The excellent Berliner Rundfunkchor could definitely learn from their American colleagues in this respect. Johannes Brahms’ “Deutsches Requiem” is no musical stick-in-the-mud. It clearly sings forth the call for good deeds where faith is concerned without centering on liturgical directives. It is a work of freedom of faith, based on the great apparatus which the Liedertafel (part-song singing groups) all over 19th-century Germany had prepared. That cemented the success of the work until the present day.

ASOC in Berlin 2009: Berliner Zeitung review

I spent the last nine days with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus in Berlin, where we performed Brahms' "Ein Deutsches Requiem" with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Our Sunday performance was broadcast live online via the Philharmonic's digital concert hall, where it lives on in the archive as well, so I plan to check that out myself soon -- people I know who watched gave the experience and the concert good reviews.

In the meantime, I thought I would exercise my usually dormant German skills, which were awakened over the past week, and have a go at translating some of the reviews (with the help of LEO, of course). There were a few thorny parts, but I gave it my best shot. Here's the most recent one, from Tuesday's Berliner Zeitung:
Brahms "Deutsches Requiem" at the Philharmonic
Martin Wilkening

At the Philharmonic, Donald Runnicles is the man for musical mass-spectacle. After Britten’s “War Requiem” and the Grand Death-Mass from Berlioz followed Brahms' "Deutsches Requiem" this weekend. And as with the previous musical requiems, the chorus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was again guest performer, with nearly 200 members a mammoth organism of nevertheless astonishing flexibility.

The singers are non-professional, which brought this performance its own direct and somewhat uneven tone-color from the outset – just as the sheer number of participants did. The declamation of the text was not only perfectly understandable and as good as accent-free, but furthermore possessed a moving simplicity and naturalness, without overly sharp consonants and without exaggerated accented individual words – in and of itself a clear two-dimensionality, as fits the expression of such a large mass of voices. This concept found its strongest moments in the quiet singing, whereas the choir’s sound sometimes lost its compactness when it got good and loud.

Runnicles moved the massive sound-apparatus with unagitated aplomb. His direction, as economical as it was insistent, consistently held the singers and instrumentalists effortlessly back in an inwardly animated piano. Both soloists sang hauntingly: effortless and flexible, Gerald Finley sang nobly, the soprano Helena Juntunen with a somewhat stereotypical tremolo. The connection between Brahms’ Requiem and the first half of the concert remained incomprehensible. “Traces,” from New York composer Sebastian Currier, here receiving its world premiere, came into being as a co-commission of the Philharmonic foundation and the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, of which Runnicles is the music director. One doesn’t have to use Brahms as a standard for all things musical – but a somewhat more substantial piece would have been more appropriate than Currier’s mellifluous five-movement concerto for harps and a rather small orchestra, which on the one hand indulged in sketchy, fragmented tune-painting, on the other articulated his thoughts with penetrating diffuseness that so predictably followed one after the other: the triad to the microtonal chord and vice versa, the appealingly mysterious expanse of tones to the contemplative melody, and the other way around. That Marie-Pierre Langlamet, the orchestra’s solo harpist, is an exceptionally gifted musician was only superficially apparent.