Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique Brahms – 4

Coriolan – Overture
Geistliches Lied, Op.30 [arr. Gardiner for chorus and strings]
Giovanni Gabrieli
Sanctus and Benedictus à 12
Übers Gebirg Maria geht
Aus meine Sünden Tiefe
Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?
Cantata No.150 – Meine Augen sehen stets zu dem Herrn; Meine Tage in den Leiden
Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op.109
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

The Monteverdi Choir

Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 October, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Phoptograph: Sheila Rock. ©DeccaBaroque and Classical musical roads lead to Brahms. That might be Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s message, tracing the influences to Brahms’s own music, itself essentially Romantic, but looking back rather than forward.

In this the fourth concert (probably the last – London seems to have missed out on Brahms’s Second Symphony, but all four symphonies and “Ein deutsches Requiem” are being recorded for Soli Deo Gloria), Brahms’s final symphony was preceded by numerous example of ‘baroque choral’ as well as some of his own settings.

Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture was the opener, the orchestra’s (antiphonal) violins standing, the performance energised, aflame with drama, taut, lyrical and artistically shaped, the antitheses to Furtwängler in both conception and sound – Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is a period-instrument band with non-vibrato strings and distinctive winds and brass. It’s not the only way to play this music!

Johannes Brahms (1833-97)The Monteverdi Choir is a superb group of (here) 45 voices, versatile and flexible, not least in forming into one, two or three sections – for some of Brahms’s own choices when he conducted Vienna Singakademie in the mid-1860s. Giovanni Gabrieli’s example was solemnly intoned between three groups (with trombones, trumpets, bassoons, cello, double bass and organ); Eccard’s piece is graceful and Lassus’s a declaration of polyphonic supremacy and imploring lyricism – both a cappella; Schütz’s setting is of deep melancholy and discombobulating harmony, spatial too, and needing a blaze of trombones. Fore and aft, Gardiner’s arrangement of Brahms was very affecting, and “Fest- und Gedenksprüche” made ingenious use of antiphonal choirs – exultant, rustic vitality, generous, and also valedictory (it seems). Bach’s cantata choruses were of shining radiance (lovely bassoon detail in the first), the second pointing the way to the passacaglia that is rooted in the finale of Brahms’s final symphony. The whole selection required numerous manoeuvres on behalf of the performers – very slick in operation.

And the symphony itself was … well, different! Rarely has the first movement been taken so swiftly and in such a light and springy manner. It was joyful. This is rare in this work. Shouldn’t there be more tragedy implied? Nifty it certainly was but the performance also turned on a sixpence for hush and contemplation. Something in reserve, too, for the hectic coda. But what did it all mean? It drew applause. The worst possible response! Yet Gardiner found an unsuspected space for the Andante moderato second movement (sepulchral-sounding cellos and reedy winds to the fore) with phasing richly moulded and timpani detail landing on the ears with gratifying surprise. The scherzo was swept through as if it wasn’t there (hardly ‘giocoso’), but the finale was launched with a defiant growl and reached a fine sense of culmination.

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