Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra brought their week-long Brahms cycle at the Kennedy Center to a close on Saturday night with a performance of the German Requiem that held an admirable mixture of thrilling vitality and screne repose.
The Requiem is not only the longest work in the entire Brahms catalog but the one in which he let himself go in some broadly expressive ways that he never explored in any of his other writing. It is a display of his mastery of choral writing and that special kind of radiant instrumental texture that sets his music apart from any other.
Maazel played the seven movements without any intrusive intermission, allowing the entire score to create its extraordinary atmosphere. His orchestra was in top form, and in the central string writing, took on a velvet tone so apt in this music.
Norman Scribner's Choral Arts Society sang the long, flowing lines with easy, glorious tone. Their enunciation was ideal and they provided Maazel with every nuance and dynamic shading he asked. He, in turn, led them with real fervor, and aside from undesirable accents added in the fourth and sixth movements, he produced, with their assistance, a noble account.
His soloists, both very good, were soprano Faye Robinson and baritone Thomas Stewart. If Robinson could give out a slightly more relaxed kind of tone, and correct the flaccid rhythm that marred the middle of her solo where she was consistently behind Maazel's beat, she would be distinctive in the exquisits solo.
Stewart read both his solos with the dramatic touches their words suggest. And he took several of the long phrases in the single breath that best shapes them.
The Requiem offered an ideal cap to the week of Brahms. In case you missed it, you will have another chance to hear it when the Boston Symphony brings it here on Oct. 28.