The Phil ends season with epic performance

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THE venerable Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir closed its 92nd season with a rare performance of one of the loftiest masterpieces in the choral literature: Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), which both stirs the blood and moves the heart with its comforting message of hope for the living.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/03/2015 (2898 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE venerable Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir closed its 92nd season with a rare performance of one of the loftiest masterpieces in the choral literature: Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), which both stirs the blood and moves the heart with its comforting message of hope for the living.

Sunday’s matinee led by the Phil’s tireless maestro Yuri Klaz also featured special guest artists: soprano Tracy Dahl and baritone Victor Engbrecht.

Three years ago the organization launched a series of large-scaled choral concerts in partnership with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, with the latter’s presence this weekend adding greatly to the sense of occasion.

Composed between 1865 and 1868 and based on the Lutheran Bible, Brahms’ massive oratorio is as much a heartfelt tribute to his own beloved mother, whose death inspired the work, as it is a life-affirming manifesto of humanist values.

Its seven carefully crafted movements span the bonds of death to the glory of redemption, calling for performers to scale a musical Mount Everest of dramatic intensity and spiritual majesty.

At 86 voices strong, this choir is always at its most thrilling during the full ensemble sections — and there were many. There is also something special hearing it sung in German, which creates an authenticity compared with an English translation.

One of the highlights proved to be second “funeral cortege” movement Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (“Behold, all flesh is as the grass”) sung with fatalistic resolve by the choir underpinned by ominous timpani strikes.

Also enthralling were the work’s two fugues, particularly the first during Herr, lehre doch mich (“Lord, make me to know”) that builds in intensity over the pedal point “D.” The audible gasps from the mostly older crowd of 815 were real at its exultant conclusion, despite some shrillness heard during the sopranos’ exposed entries — mitigated when joined by their choral compatriots.

Dahl remains one of this city’s greatest vocal treasures. Her clear voice is as pure as it was at the beginning of her 30-plus-year career, which has included appearances on all the world’s major stages, including Italy’s legendary La Scala in 2006.

She made her lone solo during fifth movement Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (“Ye now are sorrowful”) worth the wait, as she sang of motherly love with warmth and compassion, filling the room with heavenly ringing notes and liquid phrasing.

Engbrecht is one of those performers who exudes joy whenever onstage; his resonant baritone adds gravitas to the overall ensemble. He infused his initial solo during Herr, lehre doch mich with requisite drama, as well as later during penultimate movement Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (“Here on Earth have we not continuing place”) when he foretells the end of the world according to St. Paul. His confident presence rounded out a stirring rendition of this mighty work.

The program also included Fauré’s lushly scored Messe basse that again showcased Dahl’s sublime artistry, supported by the clearly inspired choir who carefully enunciated its Latin text. Verdi’s overtly operatic Stabat Mater from Quattro Pezzi Sacri — notably the 19th-century Italian composer’s last work — followed with its extreme contrasts of styles and dynamics teetering on melodrama.

As expected, the capacity audience awarded the choristers, soloists, symphony musicians and Klaz a resounding standing ovation for their epic performance.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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