Performance Review: Brahms’ German Requiem
The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and Chorus teamed up with baritone John Michael Moore, soprano Joélle Harvey and the University of North Florida Chorale and Chamber Singers to present “Brahms’ German Requiem” this weekend. This generous program of German Romantic music featured Gustav Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” alongside the eponymous work by Johannes Brahms.
Songs of a Wayfarer, by Gustav Mahler
First on the program was the Mahler. Baritone John Michael Moore launched into the cycle with the sinuous legato and expressive phrasing that would mark his singing throughout the evening. His approach fit Mahler’s grief-tinged music perfectly, portraying the deep pathos which haunts even the more outwardly optimistic lines in the score. His diction and projection kept the solo lines consistently clear, even towards the back of the hall. Music Director Courtney Lewis led the orchestra with a careful ear towards balance, never overpowering the soloist. The orchestral textures, complex though they often were, maintained a crystalline clarity, functioning as an equal partner with the soloist.
A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms’ monumental “A German Requiem” was second on the program. The choral forces amassed for this occasion were impressive indeed, consisting of the combined choirs of the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus and two UNF choral ensembles. Having such a large contingent of singers, who were positioned across two floors of seating, proved very beneficial to the overall balance of sound against Brahms’ large orchestra. Diction was extremely clear, even in the quietest moments, and the broad dynamic range displayed by the choirs allowed for a level of expressive phrasing and musical nuance that all too often gets lost in performances of large choral works. When the full power of the choirs and orchestra was unleashed for the first time in the second movement, the effect was one of overpowering awe. In the third movement baritone John Michael Moore displayed the same expressive qualities we had heard earlier in the Mahler cycle, singing with a palpable sense of conviction. A personal highlight for me was soprano Joélle Harvey’s performance in the fifth movement, “Ihl habt nun Traurigkeit.” She managed to communicate a sense of compassion that was extraordinary; her infinitely subtle phrasings imbued every note with direction and meaning, leaving no expressive possibility unexplored.
From the first bars to the last it was clear that all the many musicians assembled for this performance were not only impeccably prepared and rehearsed, but that they truly love this music and share a common aesthetic vision of this great work, one of hope and optimism. Special mention should be made of Jacksonville Symphony Chorus Director Donald McCullough and UNF Director of Choral Studies Dr. Cara Tasher, who had clearly prepared these choirs impeccably well. The juxtaposition of the Mahler song cycle alongside the Brahms was an excellent programming choice. After a pandemic era that necessitated human separation and distance, these two pieces complimented each other wonderfully in a triumphant return to form for the choral arts.
Tim Tuller is the Canon for Music at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. Tuller formerly wrote for the Florida Times-Union as the classical music reviewer.
Watch, Listen and Read
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The Jacksonville Symphony would like to give special thanks to Florida Blue for sponsoring the Classical Series. Additional thanks are given to Tim Tuller for attending the performance and writing this performance review: Brahms’ German Requiem.