Wednesday, September 12, 2012

OMM Brahms "Ein Deutsches Requiem" in Review (8 Sep 2012)


Arvo Pärt – Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten
Brahms – Ein Deutsches Requiem

Audi Young Persons' Choral Academy
Orchestra of the Music Makers
Soloists: Virgil Mischok (bar), Theresa Krügl (sop)
Chorus master: Martin Steidler
Conductor: Chan Tze Law

(My apologies to the management team for taking this long to publish the review, as I was busy moving countries to be timely)

Audi has certainly forked-out a great deal of moolah by sponsoring the choir and taking these over 70 members on tour (they performed in Taipei only a few days ago on 3 September), but for those used to performances of the Deutches Requiem where choral forces number in the hundreds, this interpretation is a decidedly slimmed-down chamber music version, very much in line with the low-fat recording by John Elliot Gardiner, only sans period instruments.

But this concert does carry a certain amount of authenticity, as one gets to hear a mostly German cast of singers perform this most Teutonic work; this is evident in the way they pronounced the text and the instinctive colour the tone takes on based on the meaning of the words.

From the opening chords of first movement Selig sind, die da Lied tragen, one can tell that this is a well-trained choir from the clear harmonic ring of the soft opening chords. However, what is missing in the first three movements is a solid core sound at the other end of the dynamic spectrum. Perhaps due to nerves or not being used to the SOTA concert hall’s acoustics, there wasn’t much variation in tone or volume as the music builds-up to louder, more forceful passages. The well-tuned piano tone was unable to swell up into a reasonably strong forte, hence what were supposed to be exciting moments were unable to catch fire, including the dramatic fugal passage that ends third movement Herr, lehre doch mich.

But just when one is ready to write-off the choir of young singers as lacking the full voices of mature adults, the members thankfully got their act together and showed off the quality of their elite training. Fully warmed-up from the fourth movement onwards, they managed to produce full fortes while maintaining a unified choral tone, no pushing or individual voices sticking out. It’s certainly a well-trained choir that can hold a show on their own, despite the early hick-ups.

Baritone Virgil Mischok has an even, full-bodied sound and enunciates clearly with meaning and intent. It’s a well-produced if small young voice, used musically and attracts your attention. Theresa Krügl has a similarly small but resonant sound, a sweet tone with a slightly dark colour and a legato that floats. Both singers sing with clarity and polished techniques, without attempting to imitate the mature voices of older singers who have sung this music.

After reading so many great things about the Orchestra of the Music Makers, it’s great that I can finally hear one of their live concerts. I’ll describe them as an outstanding young people’s orchestra, where one has to overlook some technical difficulties, such as the occasional moments of spotty intonation, in return for enthusiastic, energetic music-making (though it must be said that professional ensembles have a penchant for getting ‘pitchy’ too). The first few movements as described above dragged on, slightly messy and not much in the way of taking on a musical personality, but as the entire cast of performers warmed-up there was a very tidy, nicely balanced sound between orchestra, chorus and soloists, and the lean, clear flavour of their musical interpretation eventually surfaced.

As an opener to the concert, Arvo Pärt’s 6 minute orchestral piece Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten is a short but affecting piece that sets the somber mood of the evening well. Persistent beats on the chimes ring out over a repeated string motif that builds up tension through varying dynamics, tempi and harmonies, it is at once meditative, spiritual, haunting and full of grief. These feelings stay with you even as the overtones from the last chime ring fade off.

The intimate space and acoustics of the SOTA Concert Hall was also an important partner to the evening’s success, as it gave the young voices a warm glow and resonance. One wonders if the comparably small forces are able to fill-up the larger space of the Esplanade Concert Hall if it was available that night. Overall it was an evening well spent, as we got to witness this rare collaboration between such a large group of young musicians from so different parts of the world.

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