A German Requiem

Texas Choral Consort's performance proved how strikingly different Brahms' Requiem is and how compassionate

Texas Choral Consort
Texas Choral Consort (Photo courtesy of University of Texas Choral Consort)

A German Requiem

Northwest Hills United Methodist Church, 7050 Village Center Dr.
Aug. 18

None of us gets out of this world alive, and the Requiem Mass has long been classical music's most magnificent response to that truth: scores of voices, buttressed by a grand union of orchestral instruments, raised toward heaven, petitioning the Almighty to ease a human soul's passage from our mortal realm into eternity. That plea on behalf of the dearly departed has inspired many a composer to majestic heights – Verdi, Dvorak, Fauré, Duruflé, not to mention Mozart, who died giving birth to a Requiem – but when Johannes Brahms turned his hand to the task, he turned his gaze earthward, directing his German Requiem to those who survive the dead. In place of intercessions for the deceased, it offers solace for the living, reminders of death's place in the natural order and reassurances of rest beyond this life. It was a striking departure from tradition, and Texas Choral Consort's performance proved not just how different a Requiem it is but also how deeply compassionate a one.

That note is struck at the outset, the first movement beginning as a hand resting softly on the shoulder, a hushed blessing for one in mourning. Although the Choral Consort stood 150 strong, its sound was subdued, almost a whisper, and the restraint infused the music with exceptional poignance; this was no thunderous entreaty to God but an acknowledgment of a personal loss, a private grief, to one still bound to Earth. Artistic Director Brent Baldwin displayed a keen sensitivity to the work's softer sections, repeatedly focusing his legion of singers into the still, small voice of scripture, counseling patience and promising consolation. Many of the choir's most beautiful and affecting moments came when it was quietest, as was true of soloist Suzanne Ramo, her radiant soprano a distillation of serenity and comfort and hope.

Not that the performance lacked thunder. As often as it ebbed to near silence, the ensemble swelled to a roar, declaring God's righteousness and power with the full-throated conviction of the believer. Indeed, much of what makes the Brahms so demanding is its constant swing back and forth between extremes. But Baldwin and his chorus were never at a loss to bring the might, as they showed most memorably late in the performance when soloist David Small, his baritone commanding authority, led the way to the Last Judgment, with the chorus echoing the Final Trumpet's blast, then defiantly challenging Death: "Where is thy sting?"; and Hell: "Where is thy victory?" – each clipped German syllable like a slap across the face.

That imposing force ultimately subsided, and the chorus ended in the subdued voice that it began, singing soothingly, peacefully, of rest after life's labors. In that calm came a cleansing or the spirit, and all you needed to know about how deeply affected the audience was by the efforts of Baldwin, the Texas Choral Consort, and the superb instrumentalists playing with them, was in the blessed moment of silence that followed the final note before the applause began.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Austin classical music
Exhibitionism
The Creation
Texas Choral Consort's performance of Haydn's masterwork reawakened one's sense of life in all its immense variety

Robert Faires, Aug. 22, 2014

Austin Chamber Musical Festival Sixth Annual Pride Concert
Austin Chamber Musical Festival Sixth Annual Pride Concert
Was G.F. Handel on your Gaydar?

Natalie Zeldin, July 11, 2014

More Arts Reviews
Austin Playhouse's <i>Copenhagen</i>
Austin Playhouse's Copenhagen
In the conversations of this Michael Frayn drama, we learn that history is broken, just like us

Laura Jones, April 19, 2019

Zach Theatre's <i>Matilda the Musical</i>
Zach Theatre's Matilda the Musical
With its memorable characters and energetic performances, this production connects adults with their inner child

Trey Gutierrez, April 19, 2019

More by Robert Faires
What to See When You Aren't Catching Moontower Comedy's Big Shows
What to See When You Aren't Catching Moontower Comedy's Big Shows

April 19, 2019

Seeing the Fusebox Festival Without Reservations
Seeing the Fusebox Festival Without Reservations
Tickets to some shows have been snapped up, but there's still plenty of electric Fusebox action available

April 12, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

A German Requiem, Austin classical music, Texas Chroal Consort, Brent Baldwin, David Small, Suzanne Ramo, Johannes Brahms

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle