A substantial part of the large audience last night at Wolf Trap--by far the largest this observer has seen there this year--was shivering. There were a few lucky ones with sweaters.
The program was all Brahms, with those two most important of his works for voice and orchestra--the German Requiem and the Alto Rhapsody. The orchestra was the Richmond Symphony, seldom heard in this area, and the chorus was the one from the University of Maryland, just back from a European tour.
The chorus was the star of the evening. Its conductor, Paul Traver, has cultivated over the years a dark, deep sound that suits the two Brahms works just right. The soloists were fine, but not spectacular. The contralto in the Rhapsody, Barbara Conrad, did not probe the disconsulate depths of Goethe's text, but she sang with lyric consistency. In the Requiem--which is a disturbed and startlingly original work that is more oratorio than religious rite--the soloists, Nicole Philibosian and Jan Opalacah, were compelling but not eloquent.
The depths of these two works were not plumbed last night, but their dignity was respected.
The orchestra showed clarity, if not great sonority. Both of these works can sustain the most overwhelming intensity; they really need it. That was lacking last night.
Yet in moments such as Part One of the Requiem, "Blessed Are They That Mourn," and at the end, "Blessed Are the Dead," the message was unmistakable. There is something about this work that deeply moves one, regardless of the niceties of the performance. And that came through clearly last night.