This concert featured the Dresden Staatskapelle, one of the finest German orchestras and the Westminster Chorus performing Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem under the baton of British conductor Daniel Harding. This is a unique work. It is sung entirely in German and consists of seven selections from the Lutheran edition of the New Testament as chosen by Brahms himself.
Although many composers saved their "big choral work" for late in their career, Brahms' Requiem dates from his fertile early period. The composer's choice of texts focuses not on the eternal hellfire and wrath of the Catholic death mass, but on passages that offer comfort to the living and eternal salvation to the dead. He composed this work following the death of his mother, and it stands out among other works in this genre because of the compassion and warmth of Brahms' message.
This German Requiem featured strong soloists. Baritone Matthais Goerne showed his deep commitment to this work and its meaning. Not only did he sing without a score, one could see his lips moving along with the choristers at several points during the performance. Mr. Goerne, a familiar face as Papageno in Mozart's Zauberflöte, has a warm, pleasing baritone. He was well matched with soprano Christiane Karg, whose full, rounded voice arched beautifully over the slow fifth movement.
Like many of the great orchestras, the Dresden Staatskapelle produces a unique sound. Their own particular tone quality stresses warmth and the smooth blending of the four families of the orchestra, melding the strings, brass and wind into a melliflous whole. And this is repertory that is ideally suited to their talents. Whether negotiating the complex fugue in the sixth movement (which had the basses playing with such enthusiasm that two of them were head-banging) or sounding out the clarion call of the Last Judgement, they were the ideal accompaniment to the singers.