By Lawrence Budmen

Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) is usually performed by large scale choral-orchestral forces. During the Victorian era, the 1868 score was often a vehicle for massive choirs with as many as 800 voices. The Miami based chamber choir Seraphic Fire offered a fascinating alternative on Friday at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables. 

For the work’s British premiere in 1871 at the home of Sir Henry Thompson, Brahms prepared an intimate version for small choral ensemble and four hand piano With recent recordings by British choral directors Stephen Cleobury and Harry Christophers, this edition has gained new artistic currency. 

Seraphic Fire’s enterprising artistic director Patrick Dupre Quigley made a strong case for Brahms’ downsized view of this deeply moving opus. While the rich chromaticism of the composer’ s orchestration is lost, a plethora of vocal subtleties that are obscured in the sheer volume of the big band version emerge with clarity and definition. Quigley’ s unerring sense of balance and measured pace allowed the music to flow with grace and power, unimpeded by interpretive eccentricities. 

Fielding a 15 voice vocal ensemble, Quigley evoked a huge dynamic range from the most hushed pianissimos to huge choral outbursts that set the sanctuary vocally ablaze. The opening section Blessed are they that mourn soared to transcendence with the choir’s ethereal tones riveting attention from the first bars.

In the second movement For all flesh is grace, Brahms’ contrasts of light and darkness were vividly presented. Quigley brought charm and genuine lilt to the lighter moments. At times the music achieved the finesse of lieder. More than once, one was reminded of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes which was conceived for the same vocal-instrumental combination. 

A master of contrapuntal lines, Quigley reveled in Brahms’ fugal writing. Moments of terror, joy and ecstasy were imbued with drama and eloquence. 

Joshua Copland’s voluminous baritone was employed to richly expressive effect. In fierce declamation and beautiful cantabile lines, his intonation was impeccable.

Suzanne Hatcher’s unwieldy soprano was disappointing in the fifth movement solo And ye therefore have sorrow. Some lovely pianissimos could not compensate for stridency in the voice’s highest range. 

Under Quigley’s inspired direction, the final chorus Blessed are the dead seemed borne on air, a gentle and haunting conclusion to one of Brahms’ most deeply felt, emotional scores. The exquisitely nuanced pianism of Sara Barton and Scott Allen Jarret firmly supported the vocal lines. 

The program will be repeated on Saturday at 8:00 PM. at All Saints Episcopal Church of Ft. Lauderdale and Sunday at 4:00 P.M. at Miami Beach Community Church.

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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