Jaap van Zweden led the New York Philharmonic and Concert Chorale of New York in a distinctive reading of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. From a decisively quiet opening, van Zweden maintained a consistent forward momentum, his tempo choices and dynamic balance between chorus and orchestra favoring the lighter and higher elements of both ensembles. Van Zweden emphasized colors that often escape notice, such as the surging horns and the use of timpani in relief to the dread of the text in the second movement. Perhaps the cavernous nature of David Geffen Hall is to blame, but the maximal ‘Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras’ did not entirely engulf the room.
The vocal soloists offered starkly different readings. Matthias Goerne seemed at times flummoxed by van Zweden’s assertive rubato. Goerne is certainly an ideal recitalist, but his narrative-driven stage presence was distracting and at odds with the more restrained presentation by the rest of the forces. Ying Fang was the star, demonstrating an ideal balance of substance and effortlessness. Her voice embodied the sorrow and optimism of ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ with subtlety and grace.
Van Zweden led the chorus with impressive sophistication and phrasing, highlighted by his pressing ahead where most performances embrace the Requiem’s slowing elements. One of Brahms’s greatest traps is how much stamina the chorus must hold in reserve for the pianissimo conclusion, and the choristers seemed greatly fatigued and their performance uneven.