Saturday evening’s performance by the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, under the masterful direction of Eckart Preu, was sublime in nearly all respects.
The string section and single chime prepared the way with an evocative rendition of Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten.”
With a minimum of musical means, this work brought the listeners to an entirely new space and time of musical experience.
At the conclusion, Preu and the performers were motionless for a considerable time so that the silence would envelop and console the audience.
Joining a reduced instrumental ensemble, with harpsichord, were the Chorale and vocal soloists Rachel Rosales and Philip Cutlip for J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 192 (“Now Thank We All Our God”).
This brief work sets all three stanzas of the familiar hymn as choral fantasies. In both this and the closing selection, Brahms’ “The German Requiem,” the diction of the entire 86-member chorus was so intelligent, meaningful and loving one would think they were all native-speaking Germans.
This careful preparation by Chorale Director Julián Gómez Giraldo is worthy of special praise.
While the original purpose of this particular cantata is not really known, there is no doubt that it remains a supreme example of Bach dancing with his God for all three movements.
After the intermission, “A German Requiem” was reborn, nurtured and matured under Preu’s brilliant leadership of the combined full orchestra, chorale, soloists and organ.
Cast in seven movements, this Requiem is a truly magnificent arch of formal design, harmonic structure and textual relationships. Brahms carefully combined scriptural passages that reflect on the entire human condition, not necessarily Christian as in prior requiems.
There is no “Day of Wrath” nor “Final Judgment”; there is hope, joy and the promise of an eternal kingdom. Death has no sting, hell has no victory – all are blessed.
Brahms employed every means at his disposal to build his masterpiece. The musicians performed with devoted concentration to such details as phrasing, dynamics, ensemble playing or singing at the highest levels of musicianship and art.
One of the many exquisite moments of this nearly 70-minute work is the return of the chorus twice in the second movement. Preceding their loud repetition of “For all flesh is as grass” is an orchestral passage, 12 measures long, of such power and magnitude that it was surely not lost on later composers such as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.
After the fourth movement Preu had the chorale sit, lights down, and there was a pause for nearly two minutes with audience completely hushed – an inspired idea.
In the fifth movement a disconnect occurred between the text and performance. This movement was added by Brahms as a memorial for his dead mother. It is a song, a lullaby if you will, of a mother consoling her child.
Soprano soloist Rosales was way too operatic for such a tender, loving moment – we should not have been hearing Wagnerian music-drama.
At the conclusion of the piece, the deeply moved and grateful audience showed its appreciation for a watershed experience of Blessed Everlasting Joy.