February 15, 2004
Celebrating Wine, Women and Song in Berlin
ProgramJohann Sebastian Bach Motette »Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied« BWV 225
Jörg Widmann Uraufführung eines Auftragswerkes der ROC GmbH
Arnold Schönberg »Friede auf Erden« für Chor a cappella
ArtistsDeutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Kent Nagano - Conductor
Simon Halsey - Einstudierung
Daniel Reuss - Einstudierung
Staats- und Domchor Berlin
Kai-Uwe Jirka - Einstudierung
Ruth Ziesak - Sopran
Stanford Olsen - Tenor
Dietrich Henschel - Bariton
Celebrating Wine, Women and Song in Berlin
A reluctant conglomeration of four excellent Berlin ensembles under the umbrella of an organization that translates as Radio Choirs and Orchestras Co. celebrated its tenth anniversary last weekend - reluctant because they have to split ever scarcer state and city arts subsidies four ways. After several individual concerts, this was the big show: the RIAS Kammerchor sang a Bach motet with basso continuo accompaniment; the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester premiered Chor by Jörg Widmann; the Rundfunkchor offered an a cappella work by Schönberg. To wrap it up, Kent Nagano conducted them all in Carmina burana.
The choir's brilliantly clear voices in the motet "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" ("Sing the Lord a new song" - a nice motto for the evening) were immediately riveting; the singers were conducted by their new conductor Daniel Reuss with an elastic beat. The cellist was particularly active, driving the rhythm and in constant visual contact with Reuss. The singing to the psalm text "praise him in his glory" in a cheerful ¾ time was as joyous as skipping down the street.
In marked contrast to the preceding Bach motet, Jörg Widmann's Chor is not made up of overlapping voices, but rather sound experiments: what kind of a sheen does a note take on when certain instruments, e.g. basses and trombones, crescendo on it? The DSO's publicity about this year's composer-in-residence stresses that he is a gifted professional clarinetist, a composer who knows the orchestra inside out. Chor begins with an off-stage trumpet playing big leaps. Melodic fragments are taken over from the trumpet's motives in the 1st and 2nd violins, moving to high harmonics in an ongoing crescendo - in fact, a rather painful sound. Several sections in loud high notes, all members of the orchestra playing at once, the violins the loudest. So yes: the orchestral instruments made sounds that fit their instruments - but one's ears rang so uncomfortably that this reviewer was glad when it was over.
Friede auf Erden, Schönberg's longest and most difficult a cappella work (composed in 1907), feels romantic, but there are few cadences: everything is in constant movement. The piece's difficulty seems to lie in holding certain notes while others slip onwards, and in hitting some of the high notes. Simon Halsey, the Rundfunkchor's conductor, uses exaggerated gestures to lead his choir and obviously enjoys being in the spotlight. The more driven passages in Schönberg's work are the moments where the text breaks out in passionate expression: "O how many deeds so bloody has that armored horseman, Conflict, on his wild horse brought forth!" The ten-minute work was very pleasing.
There are so many familiar passages in Carmina Burana - how best to present an integral performance? Kent Nagano decided for a sober, masterful approach. Baritone Dietrich Henschel is a well-known figure in Berlin, appearing at the opera houses and as soloist. He dominated the front of the stage, completely comfortable in singing over the whole orchestra. Despite just one solo, tenor Stanford Olsen also acted, smirking a bit at his favorite passages, tugging on his lapel when it was his turn. Soprano Ruth Ziezak cultivated a different style - sweet, refined, rich, but less natural. The choir tutti in "Tempus est iocundum" sounded great in their sudden dynamic changes, combining forces that normally perform separately. In Reie, Nagano created a sustained mood - held harmony, pure color - one of the things he does best. The brass sounded great in their triumphant C-major fanfare in Were diu werlt alle min. Surprisingly, there were places in both "Fortune plango vulnera" and "In taberna quando sumus" where the orchestra played too soon on the offbeats, where the orchestra and the choirs both strained at the bit. Perhaps a lack of rehearsal time for all the ensembles together? At any rate, Berlin greatly enjoyed its evening of song.
(This review originally appeared at www.classicstoday.com)