That ardent Wagnerian, George Bernard Shaw, was no fan of the Brahms German Requiem, which he deemed „so execrably dull and ponderous that the very flattest of funerals would seem like a ballet, or at least a danse macabre after it“.
Auckland Choral put the lie to Shaw’s smart sideswipe when its singers delivered the work on Saturday evening under the direction of Uwe Grodd. Major contributors to its success were the full symphonic forces of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, complete with the two harps Brahms asked for, and John Wells working his customary wonders at the organ.
Grodd approached the score with an almost theatrical flair, using the original German text. One felt the inevitable momentum as the musicians progressed through Brahms‘ pages, from the dramatic build-up to the first choral entry to those final, serene F major chords on the word „selig“ (blessed).
Grodd approached the fringes of Mahlerian territory in Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras, and liberated the gentle, very Brahmsian waltz that lies sleeping in Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen.
The choir responded with vigour throughout, even if the blend was occasionally on the raw side and sopranos were generally ill at ease in their upper register.
Grant Dickson, singing the baritone solo without printed score, had taken Grodd’s dramatic intentions to heart. This, as well as the sense of utter conviction he conveyed, almost made one overlook the distracting tremulous quality in the veteran’s voice.
Alongside him, Ileana Otto-Johansen made less of her lovely Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit. Accurately enough voiced, the soprano’s lines never soared as they should over the rich textures that the APO was laying out.
Saturday night was not all given over to such seriousness. The concert opened with Anthony Ritchie’s Third Piano Concerto, alerting Aucklanders to the stylish pianism of Emma Sayers.
One is usually aware of echoes from composers who have gone before in Ritchie’s music, but here they were marshalled with such lightness and brio, and handled by Sayers and the APO with such elegance and good spirits, that one would have to be as prickly as GBS not to be captivated.
Review by William Dart – NZ Herald – Monday May, 31 , 2010