A grand and moving Brahms Requiem from Master Chorale

By David Fleshler

Johannes Brahms

A younger Johannes Brahms composed his requiem to honor the living.

Tones of comfort and hard-won triumph filled Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale Friday, as the Master Chorale of South Florida gave a moving performance of A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

Although counted among the handful of great requiems, this work is unusual in focusing on the living, the mourners and the transitory nature of life, rather than on overtly Christian themes. Brahms, who was at most an agnostic, composed the requiem in his mid-30s, before he produced the symphonies, all but one of the concertos and the extravagant beard on which his enduring image rests.

With artistic director Brett Karlin conducting, the Master Chorale gave a performance that expressed the work’s humanity and power, with glowing tones and sweeping grandeur.

At times the tone was too soft-edged, coming off as muddy and unfocused. Some passages demanded more bite, crispness and clarity of attack, particularly in the contrapuntal sections where the composer ties the work to the styles and sensibilities of the past. But with expressive singing, fine soloists and a sense of musical architecture, this was still a performance that brought out the essence of one of the world’s great choral works.

Before the performance Karlin offered three excellent pieces of advice: Follow the text in the program, don’t applaud between sections, and finally, “I want you to think of someone special that you’ve lost.” The applause advice paid off, and at the end, the audience let the music fade into silence before starting to clap, foregoing mood-shattering premature applause that’s standard in other performances.

The opening chorus, “Blessed are those that mourn,” unfolded in glowing, plush, soft-edged tones, and with the gentleness of someone comforting a bereaved person. In “For all flesh is like the grass,” Karlin led the orchestra through a sweeping crescendo, making a real climax of the stern return of the chorus.

Accompanying the chorus was the Lynn Philharmonia, the student orchestra of Lynn University’s highly regarded music conservatory, which delivered a performance of precision and sensitivity.

Among the soloists, bass-baritone Douglas Williams brought a dark, lustrous voice and a sense of mortal desperation to “Lord teach me,” a meditation on the brevity of life. The soprano Robyn Marie Lamp brought immense warmth and an ability to spin long lines of melody to “You now have sorrow,” sustaining long crescendos and pouring emotion into her singing without overdoing it.

In “For here we have no permanent place,” Karlin led a stirring buildup of choral and orchestral forces to passages of climactic grandeur that told of the sounding of the last trumpet and the conquest of death. This is some of the work’s most stirring music, and the Master Chorale did it justice.

The Master Chorale of South Florida will perform Brahms’ German Requiem 8 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables and 4 p.m. Sunday at Lynn University’s Wold Performing Arts Center in Boca Raton. masterchoraleofsouthflorida.org;954-641-2653.


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One Response to “A grand and moving Brahms Requiem from Master Chorale”

  1. Posted May 06, 2018 at 8:37 pm by Birgit Fioravante

    A great performance of this incredible work. Kudos to the Master Chorale for having the dedication and doing the hard work of bringing this masterpiece to South Florida.

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Sat May 5, 2018
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