A German Requiem
October 6-9 | 2016
Jaap van Zweden conducts
Yuja Wang piano
Lisette Oropesa soprano
Matthias Goerne baritone
Dallas Symphony Chorus: Joshua Habermann director
Piano Concerto No. 3
A German Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem)
(sung in German with English surtitles)
Brahms's glorious requiem with the Dallas Symphony Chorus fills the Meyerson with its sonorous beauty. Yuja Wang's "unfathomable abilities*" dazzle in Bartók's Third Piano Concerto.
*New York Times
- Bartok and Brahms are Unusual, but Powerful, Companions on DSO Concert
Scott Cantrell, former classical music critic of The Dallas Morning News, has also written for The New York Times and numerous music magazines.
October 6, 2016
At first glance, the Bartok Third Piano Concerto and Brahms German Requiemwould seem the most unlikely of concert companions. By turns brilliant, playful and hauntingly beautiful, the former is a modernist sublimation of Central European folk songs and dances. The latter spells solemnity with hopeful exuberance, craving bliss beyond mortal suffering and death. But there they are this week on the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's program, separated only by an intermission. (Note that there's no Friday performance.)
In fact, both pieces are haunted by death. Brahms' requiem--using his own selection of Bible verses, in German, rather than traditional Latin texts--began as a memorial to his mother, to whom he was deeply devoted. Bartok himself was dying of leukemia when he penned the last of his three piano concertos.
On Thursday night, in a slinky blue gown, showing much leg and back, pianist Yuja Wang was the brilliant soloist in the Bartok. (It didn't bother me that she played with a score and a page-turner.) But the piece is almost more of an orchestral showpiece, by turns exuberant and introspective, with flashes of passion.
From hushed strings at its exquisite opening, the slow moment builds to a great outcry from the piano. Then tension is dispelled with birdlike twitters fluttering among winds, piano and xylophone. The finale is a tour de force of fugal writing. In the end, even in the face of death, the music is a celebration of life.
The orchestra didn't quite keep up with Wang in a couple of busy first-movement patches, but otherwise music director Jaap van Zweden got alert and vividly characterized playing. Again and again I marveled at the precision and sheen of the violins. It was a treat to hear such a wonderful piece that's sadly rare in the concert hall.
Van Zweden clearly has a deep affinity for the Brahms. In a piece other conductors too often allow to trudge, he kept tempos mobile, the music always going somewhere. From the most muted pianissimo to stirring masses of choral and orchestral sound, phrases were warmly shaped. Give credit, too, to Joshua Habermann, who has built the Dallas Symphony Chorus into such a well-balanced and expressive ensemble.
But if a single consonant was produced, in this most consonant-driven of languages, it didn't reach Row S. When chorus singers think they're wildly overdoing consonants, they're probably just about right for the audience.
With the Meyerson Symphony Center's choral terrace completely filled, the great mass of voices often overwhelmed the orchestra--a recurrent issue with DSO chorus-and-orchestra programs. Van Zweden seemed overanxious to keep the orchestra down, too often making it more deferential accompanist than partner.
Matthias Goerne might have seemed a natural soloist for the piece, but his nominal baritone, now quite dense and dark, suggested that Wagner's Fafner had been pressed into service. Even his intonation was occasionally fuzzy. Lisette Oropesa was a serviceable soprano soloist, but I wished for a sweeter lyric soprano, with a bit less nasal resonance.