Die Sonn’, die ist verblichen
Ich schell mein Horn
Ich schwing mein Horn, Op.41/1
Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen
Es tönt ein voller Harfenklang, Op.17/1
Einförmig ist der Liebe Gram, Op.113/13
Ellens Gesang II (Jager, ruhe von der Jagd), D838
Gesang aus Fingal, Op.17/4
Five Songs for Chorus, Op.104
Gesang der Parzen, Op.89
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
The Monteverdi Choir
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 4 October, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The idea behind the series of concerts that Sir John Eliot Gardiner has termed his two-year “Brahms Project” is to look at the music of Brahms and to understand what his influences were and how they pervade his music. Brahms was an excellent music scholar and music editor (his editions of Schubert’s symphonies are the ones normally performed) and he used music of the past like a student uses a textbook: to incorporate the ‘old’ ideas and develop them with his own.Preceding the F major Symphony were settings by Brahms and those who influenced him. The concert began with three a cappella Renaissance part-songs as well as Brahms’s own setting of the Caspar Othmayr work. The Baroque origins are pretty obvious and the competence of the singing undeniable. Such clear voices as those of the Monteverdi Choir are to be cherished; there was much to enjoy. The final song – “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” (Innsbruck, I must leave you) – was given a contemplative air, full of acceptance in its farewell. Very moving.
The rest of the songs employed combinations of natural horns, bassoons and harp. The five-part men’s chorus for Schubert’s “Mondenschein” (Moonlight) provided some drama. This was sandwiched by two Brahms settings for female choir, two horns and harp. Not only did the singing communicate beautifully the emotions behind the words but there were sublime duets between harp and horn – perhaps someone could write a sonata for this combination! “Einförmig ist der Liebe Gram” received a surprisingly chirpy reading. The “Five Songs” for chorus carried their opposing emotions well, running from vigour through to acceptance of one’s situation in life to there being room for optimism in the future.
In “Gesang der Parzen” Brahms perhaps echoed 16th-century tradition and upholding traditional musical values. There was a quite-full orchestra for this symphonic song. A splendid contribution from the contrabassoon underpinned the music securely.
After all this the Third Symphony seemed to employ another world – surely not the point! This is Brahms’s shortest symphony, its tightly-knit ideas needs to be explored with care, yet the opening suffered from shambolic ensemble and harsh treatment, the sinewy strings hardly making the case for the ‘Romantic’ in Brahms. Everything seemed over by the resolution-filled coda of the opening movement. No wonder it drew applause! The Andante was forced, with plodding interplay excepting some wonderful oboe and, in particular, clarinet contributions. Following attacca the Poco allegretto was clinical in approach, and after a lengthy tune-up the finale was shallow, the opening lacking shadows but the pounding marches were great shots in the arm.