This review appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of October 26, 1997.
The New Mexico Symphony Chorus displayed its strengths in a solid performance Friday evening at Popejoy Hall. The chorus was featured on the New Mexico Symphony's Classics Concerts series an an all-Brahms evening under their director and NMSO associate conductor, Roger Melone.
Melone, firmly in control, drew a satisfying interpretation from both chorus and orchestra. His approach possessed a notable clarity and forward drive that carried the evening surely through the density of Brahms' dark world.
The program centered on the composer's German Requiem. Wisely, Melone chose to give the hour-plus work without a break. Intermission came after a short opener, Brahms' Tragic Overture, its solemn mood setting an appropriate tone for the Requiem to come.
The clean, emphatic performance of the Overture also anticipated the Requiem performance.
The orchestra, continuing the sense of renewal that marked the season's start last month, played with concentrated attention and an appealing freshness of spirit.
Brahms' German Requiem stands in a category all its own. Like the delicately colored Requiem of the French composer Gabriel Faure or Verdi's near-operatic Requiem, Brahms' work departs from tradition to convey his own, highly individual view.
It is a personal, deeply human concept that takes nothing from the traditional Mass of the Dead. Opting for German instead of Latin, his texts omits threats of terror and fire. Instead, the Biblical passages that he chose form a moving meditation on our brief passage through life into the unknown of death.
Containing only a few solos, the Requiem centers on the chorus. The NMSO Chorus, consistently intelligent and musical in its performance, was placed in a somewhat unusual arrangement. Rather than blocks of sopranos, altos, tenors, basses, the men and women were staggered throughout like brickwork. This spacing contributed to a richly integrated sound. It also helped deflect attention from the lesser force of the tenors, whose strength did not match the other sections though they sang with equal musicality.
The chorus gave a consistently strong performance, responsive to Melone's sure hand.
Their enunciation was crystal clear, their sound from the softest to the most powerful passages always controlled and expressive. For example, the So seid nun geduldig (Be patient then) section unfolded with flowing grace. The close of the third section, which speaks of the comfort of the Lord, built skillfully to a forceful climax over the long string pedal.
Melone's straightforward vigor worked well, but there were times when more intensity would have been welcome.
The two soloists, baritone Peter Halverson and soprano Karen Clift, brought the right gifts to their parts. Halverson made a strong presence, emphatically projecting his rich, even voice. Clift sang with a sweetness and purity of tone that expressively conveyed the sense of comfort Brahms infuses into the soprano passages.