The evening didn't start well. This final program of the San Francisco
Symphony's Brahms Festival opened with Brahms' "Song of the Spirit" and
"Four Songs for Women's Chorus" - all in a languorous-to-funereal fashion,
Michael Tilson Thomas taking it slow and easy, rather lifeless.
But then came "A German Requiem," with MTT, the orchestra, and Ragnar
Bohling's Symphony Chorus all coming to life magnificently, languid
turning to majestic. Frosting on the cake, the two soloists were brilliant
in their teeny-tiny roles. Even with nine and six minutes total run
time, respectively, Matthias Goerne's "Herr, lehre doch mich" and "Denn
wir haben hie keine bleibende" filled huge Davies Hall with power and
lyricism, Laura Claycomb's "Ihr habt un Traurigkeit" sparkled with colors,
glowed with beauty.
In this, Bohling's first major production as chorus director, the
Symphony Chorus sang as well as ever - a huge claim after the 23 great
years with Vance George in charge. Baritones and basses were especially
grand, giving backbone to the mighty pedal points in the opening "Selig
sind," prompting (appropriately) gooseflesh in "Denn alles Fleisch."
There were moments, especially in large, powerful passages when the
Chorus reached perfection; at other times, the grace and agility of
sopranos and mezzos delighted and enchanted.
Except for a bit of weakness in the perhaps under-rehearsed "Wie
lieblich sind deine Wohnungen," this was "A German Requiem" to treasure
- and hear again: performances are scheduled through Saturday
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