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Unforgettably thrilling German Requiem

  • Jun 30, 2011
From the Eugene Register-Guard Thursday June 30 By John Farnworth On Sunday afternoon, Silva Hall witnessed one of the most extraordinary musical events in this reviewer’s substantial and lengthy experience. Maestro Helmuth Rilling, now 78 years of age, showed no sign of diminished vigor and authority in leading the Oregon Bach Festival orchestra and the most spellbinding chorus I have heard in many years in a wondrous performance of Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem.
The chorus was actually a blending of two separate choruses: the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, based in Caracas, and the Berwick chorus of the Oregon Bach Festival. Though to hear the 70-voice result I was given the impression that these wonderful singers had been performing together for many years. Accolades must be given to Maria Guinand and Kathy Romey, chorus masters of the two individual choirs for this amazing blending and the textbook precision of these singers who sang as one voice, in four parts. The Requiem is in seven movements. The first movement, “Selig sind, die da Leid tragen” (“Blessed are those who mourn”) began with a breath-taking introduction by the woodwinds (Allan Vogel’s oboe was sublime) and the French horns. The magnificent chorus then began its unaccompanied and subdued ethereal entrance. When the orchestra and chorus combined we became aware of the power and majesty not only of this glorious music, but also of the perfect performance by Rilling and all his musicians, instrumental and vocal alike. In the second movement, “Denn alles Fleisch” (“Then all flesh”), there were some thrilling crescendos in the chorus, the diction crystal clear and well enunciated. Timpanist Mark Goodenberger delivered many powerful blows to underscore the text. Baritone Rod Gilfry’s beautiful, resonant voice began the third movement; and the fourth movement, “Wie lieblich sind” (“How lovely is your dwelling place”) featured several of those wonderful Brahmsian descending motifs found throughout the symphonies and concertos that were yet to be written. Wonderful stuff! The fifth movement, “Ihr habt non Trauerigkeit” (“And ye now therefore have sorrow”), featured the lovely soaring soprano of Tamara Wilson, as well as some exquisite flute playing by Lorna McGhee and her colleagues. For me, the highlight of the entire work was the sixth movement “Den Wir haben” (“For here we have no continuing city”). There is a great deal of tension in this music. The brass, particularly the trumpets (Guy Few, as usual, was thrilling), was quite literally breathtaking. The strings were in an almost frenzy of activity, and again the powerful chorus made for a truly transcendent musical experience. The final movement, “Selig sind die Toten” (“Blessed are the dead”) had the horns, trombones and trumpets growling their way through the opening measures, giving way to a peaceful, reassuring calmness in orchestra and chorus that brought the piece to its majestic conclusion. There was a half-minute’s pregnant silence until Rilling turned toward the audience, which then rose to its feet and sent an earth-shattering roar of applause into the space that is Silva Hall. A performance that will be remembered by all who were there, and should be regretted by those who were not. John Farnworth of Vida reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.