Unlike the fiery Requiems of Mozart and Verdi, Brahms’s ‘German’ one approaches the Christian concepts of death and the afterlife from a measured and consoling perspective. Its juxtaposition of fear and reassurance ultimately offers an optimistic view of mortality, so when paired with the somber Musique funèbre by Witold Lutosławski, the eventual effect of this concert was that of serenity.
Pablo Heras-Casado had the Brahms follow the Lutosławski directly, avoiding clapping. The effect was chilling; Musique funèbre representing Death and the Requiem serving as a vision of what may lie beyond it.
The ‘Prologue’ of the Lutosławski (1956, written in memory of Bartók) gradually increases in intricacy. Heras-Casado kept the contrasting lines coordinated, then gradually intensified ‘Metamorphoses’ until the full weight of strings exploded into the gripping ‘Apogeum’.
In rendering the moods of Brahms’s setting of Lutheran scripture, the members of Musica Sacra succeeded in balancing anxiety and sadness, hope and vindication. The sopranos lent angelic grace to the hymn-like ‘Selig sind, die da Leid tragen’, and the stirring passages in the second and sixth movements were thundered out.
Of the soloists Florian Boesch brought urgency and immediacy to the baritone’s impassioned pleas, while Sophie Karthäuser lent graceful refinement to the soprano’s heavenly solo ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’, radiating light in every phrase.
Following the ultimate luminous bars, Heras-Casado held silence for some time, leaving us with only the stillness of memory and the mysterious unknown of whatever is to come.