The Herald inaugurates today a new era of weekly Friday appearance and it will continue to cover the relevant news in classical music: opera, ballet and concerts. This first review concerns (paradoxically) the last concerts of the Mozarteum Argentino´s season. As it has done in some earlier years, it said goodbye with masterpieces of the choral-symphonic repertoire, in this case presented by two Berlin visitors: the Rundfunkchor (Radio Choir) and -curiously with an Italian appellation- the Orchestra L´Arte del Mondo.
It is a pity that this review only covers the first of the two different programmes, but as will be apparent to readers, this is due to the clash of the second (Tuesday) concert with no less than the Bach great Mass at another venue. On Monday the Colón heard Brahms´ "A German Requiem" ; on Tuesday the "pièce de résistance" was Mozart´s Requiem, and as it lasts one hour, it was heard preceded by a Brahms motet, "Warum ist das Licht gegeben" ("Why is light given") and a curious a cappella arrangement of Mahler´s Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony.
The Rundfunkchor was founded in 1925 and has had an important trajectory; its current Director (since last year) is Gijs Leenaars, born 1978 in Nijmegen, Holland, succeeding a famous choral specialist, Simon Halsey. L´Arte del Mondo is much younger; it was founded by Werner Ehrhardt in 2004. As they came in this tour, the choir lists 51 singers, among them the two soloists we heard, soprano Anne Bretschneider (a native Berliner) and baritone Artem Nesterenko (born 1989, Novosibirsk), whose surname is the same as that of a famous bass heard at the Colón in 1982. And the orchestra came with 53 players (among them Ehrhardt as violinist, he is generally conductor) plus two invited BA musicians (tuba, harp). Leenaars conducted.
Brahms´ very particular Requiem lasts about seventy minutes and discards the habitual text used by Mozart or Verdi, for it uses versicles from the Old and the New Testaments in the Luther translation; "German" simply because Brahms uses that language. Brahms was incited by both Robert Schumann and his wife Clara Wieck to write a requiem, though they didn´t imagine it would be so original. Also, its progress wasn´t linear; e.g., the second of its seven parts was the reelaboration of a movement from a two-piano sonata that was never finished; other five parts were written later, and the work had a first première in three parts in Vienna (1867) and in six in Bremen (1868); later he added the lovely part with soprano, and it was only in 1869 that the whole score was heard at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.
It was soon recognised as a masterpiece and both in length and quality his most valuable contribution to the choral-symphonic repertoire. In 1869 he was 35 and had already written such major works as the First Piano Concerto and the First Sextet. In modern times there has been a plethora of marvelous recordings (Karajan, Klemperer, Sinopoli, et al) and the work has been done quite often in our city; sample: between 1955 and 1968 the Asociación Wagneriana, then a basic institution, presented it three times with its own choir and orchestra. Since that already remote time, it has lost none of its attraction. This year it was offered in BA at the Auditorio de Belgrano (conductor Domínguez) and at La Plata´s Argentino (Vieu).
It is a work that shows Brahms´ best qualities: sustained melodic inspiration, sensitivity to the meaning of the words (from the Psalms, epistles of Paul and Peter, Revelation, Isaiah, Matthew, St.James, Proverbs), total counterpoint mastery, an unerring sense of contrast. There´s not a banal or weak moment though it requires total concentration from artists and audience, for it is tryingly dense.
The music goes from consoling and serene to stark and granitic, and requires very firm intonation both orchestral and choral. The version we heard was honorable and at times more than that, but it had flaws at various points. I found the choir more even in their performance than the orchestra, who had some maladjustments and doubtful attacks. The speeds were correct but at times the necessary tension wasn´t achieved. The solo singers were musical and pleasant, though the parts can be sung with more personality. And Leenaars, although well-schooled, isn´t yet commanding enough for such powerful music.