de Waart, MSO and Chorus
The music soars and glides, but that low pulsation recurs often enough to have a constant presence in the mind, if not the ear. With all its weight and depth, it is not ominous, but reassuring, like a powerful guardian.
The German Requiem is the most soul-stirring and reassuring music I know. The arc of it and the carefully chosen words from Scripture add up to Brahms’ idea of how the universe ought to be. Yes, life appears to be pain and chaos, but kindness and humility matter and are in the end rewarded. Brahms’ Requiem is the virtue of Hope distilled into sound.
An ardent, controlled and accurate performance, such as the one given Friday night, unlocks the music’s transcendent beauty. Edo de Waart led the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, soprano Twyla Robinson and baritone Luca Pisaroni with exactly the clear-eyed brand of passion the music deserves. This isn’t the Verdi Requiem, with its operatic, Catholic hellfire drama, or Handel’s Messiah, with its utter assurance of right and power. Brahms was more rational and generous in his religious feeling. This is not about “our religion can beat up your religion.” It reaches over borders to embrace all humanity. Brahms looks at the sweat and disaster of life, chose to believe in goodness and beauty anyway, and then did something about it: He declared his hope in music that overflows with goodness and beauty.
To be in the hall Friday night was to be immersed in goodness and beauty and to rekindle the notion that goodness and beauty matter.
Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, a brilliant choice for a companion piece to the Requiem, is a cooler, more abstract consideration of the same sentiments. The sound, while not Impressionist in the way of Debussy, is very French in its emphasis on sonority. Stravinsky often goes for an ethereal shimmer in clustered dissonant intervals in high woodwinds and treble voices. The orchestra, 22 kids from the Milwaukee Children’s Choir and 150 adults in the MSO Chorus tuned these unusual chords well. They drifted through Uihlein Hall like glowing angels.
Stravinsky here favors spiraling, serpentine melodies in seconds and thirds, in which half-step alterations amid the flow have great impact. De Waart, the musicians and the singers all zeroed in on these small effects and got big results.
These results had nothing to do with religious inspiration. This music is more about transportation, taking you to another state of mind. The final movement is downright hallucinatory. Its long melody, an ever-changing, ever-unrolling string of close intervals, winds round and over itself again and again, like an infinity sign traced over and over in ever-changing colors.
This program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 1. For details and ticket information, visit the MSO website. To read a preview interview with Lee Erickson, the MSO’s excellent choral director, click here.