Monday, March 13, 2017

Schubert and Brahms

Franz Schubert
This month I was able to perform two pieces from the romantic period in one concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Yuri Klaz.
Klaz is primarily a choral conductor but has conducted the WSO on several occasions. 
It was heartwarming for this chorister to see that the musicians behaved as though they had respect for Yuri's musical ideas and a genuine warmth seemed to emanate between the orchestra and conductor. 
I have seen many conductors mount the podium and gaze out over this orchestra, I have seen more than one wilt and be meekly led by the concert mistress herself.  On the other hand  I have shaken in my boots as tongue lashings occurred from podium to timpani and condescending remarks were hissed out at various instrumental sections.
The rehearsals for this concert had none of that.  Respect for the music and one another was the hallmark of these rehearsals.  Instruction and response seemed natural.
This conductor even handled the union master's annoying penchant for stopping rehearsals at just the wrong time with good humour.

Even if this respectful relationship had not been the case I feel the music would have smoothed over any difficulties. 

The glorious pieces we performed, the we being the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, are not that often performed here in Winnipeg, and in fact it was my first time for either piece!  Given my age it may also be the last, which is truly a sad thought!

We sang the Brahms' Nanie and Schubert's Mass in Eflat.  Recordings of the pieces are linked to their titles.  The Brahms piece is a secular piece written for the funeral of a friend.  The text is a Friedrich Schiller poem. (same poet who wrote the Ode to Joy text)   It is written and was performed in the German language but here is the English translation of the text.

Even the beautiful must perish! That which overcomes gods and men
Moves not the armored heart of the Stygian Zeus.
Only once did love come to soften the Lord of the Shadows,
And just at the threshold he sternly took back his gift.
Neither can Aphrodite heal the wounds of the beautiful youth
That the boar had savagely torn in his delicate body.
Nor can the deathless mother rescue the divine hero
When, at the Scaean gate now falling, he fulfills his fate.
But she ascends from the sea with all the daughters of Nereus,
And she raises a plaint here for her glorious son.
Behold! The gods weep, all the goddesses weep,
That the beautiful perishes, that the most perfect passes away.
But a lament on the lips of loved ones is glorious,
For the ignoble goes down to Orcus in silence.

Just reading the text I can hear that it was meant for Brahms!
The Schubert mass, his last one, and in fact he died before it was first performed, is much more difficult to sing than his earlier ones.  I was quite surprised when I came to them that the fugues required a fair bit of work and were  trickier than one would expect of Schubert.  This made rehearsals fun, and provided great satisfaction when they appeared light and fresh at performance time - at least I hope so.
Schubert did not write much for the soloists to do.  He gave them only quartet /trio work and usually meshed them into a choral piece.  This meant that neither my voice nor body received much of a rest during performance, as there were no arias where a chorister could rest up!

The Philharmonic choir, most notably the alto section, was very welcoming to associate singers and I appreciate them for it.  I have been singing as an associate with this choir since 1980.  Back then they were known as The Winnipeg Symphony Philharmonic Choir and had their rehearsals at the concert hall with a grand piano.  Now they rehearse in a crowded high school theatre with an electronic keyboard and yet manage to yield good results!  Bravo!