Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Claire Kuttler, soprano
Andrew McLaughlin, baritone
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 28, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) continued its Memorial Day weekend extravaganza with an all-Brahms program led by its artistic director and principal conductor, the estimable Jonathan Griffith. Although Ein deutsches Requiem can stand alone as a whole program, Maestro Griffith preceded it with a suitably moody account of the Tragic Overture, one that showcased the depth of the strings’ tone beautifully.

Then the massed international choir (288 by my estimate) took the stage for the main event, the consoling “humanist” (non-liturgical) Requiem Brahms composed, at least partly prompted by the death of his mother. Maestro Griffith gave a very spacious rendition of the lyrical movements, not leaving any shaping unexplored. Paradoxically, he drove the fugal sections (important portions of movements two, three, and six) quite briskly, causing a loss of some choral clarity and even a few coordination mishaps between choir and orchestra. Only the benevolent but tyrannical precision of a Robert Shaw, and more rehearsal time, could have solved that issue. Although control of pitch in the softer sections was tentative, the choral sound was thrilling at the louder dynamic levels.

So seductive is the “surface layer” of the Requiem that we can easily forget just how “constructed” the piece is: motivic unity among all movements, arch form, symmetry, and massive Bach-inspired fugues. Brahms really poured all his heart AND mind into this, his longest work by far. There is a certain “churning” of the composer’s mind that then opens into worlds of ineffable repose. The orchestral playing was great, with contrapuntal answering between parts heard in all its mellow clarity, and nice work from all the winds too (so often treacherous)—that I was able to hear this is a testament to the quality of this rendition.

The soloists were both very good, with Andrew McLaughlin delivering emphatic accounts of his, dramatically involved and with vivid diction. Probably one of the hardest things any soprano has to do is to sit still on stage for thirty-eight minutes through the first four movements and then rise and deliver one of the most difficult solos in the oratorio repertoire. Claire Kuttler has a voice larger than one is accustomed to hearing in this work, but it soared beautifully out into Carnegie Hall, though at times she appeared to be having breath difficulty. I did enjoy the fullness of her reading, at times even impetuous—it contrasted with the usual “ethereal” approach.

This Requiem is just the cure for our troubling time that seems to abound in bad news. Well done!