Pro Coro Offers Hope with Brahms’ Requiem

April 2, 2010

Pro Coro, Winspear Centre

German Requiem, Johannes Brahms

Pro Coro staged their annual Good Friday concert at the Winspear this past weekend.  On the program was Brahms’ German Requiem, a choral standard. 

I’ll state my bias right here: I like this music.  It’s a little like the cozy sweater I pull out of my drawer for lazy Saturday mornings.  At the same time, one performance of it can sound much like the next.  I wasn’t sure what would set this concert apart from any other, although I had no doubt that Pro Coro would do a good job. 

I’m grateful for the perspective Brahms took when he composed this requiem.  Instead of using the standard text of a mass for the dead, he picked words that he thought would bring comfort to family and friends coming to grips with losing a loved one.  It’s a striking combination of restlessness and calm assurance, from “consider my frailty” to “I have found comfort”.  The words take an honest look at the mixed emotions involved in dealing with loss.  While there’s a sense of resolution by the end of music, I don’t think it’s trying to suggest that grief is something you can wrap up in a tidy 70 minutes. 

I went into the evening curious about how Pro Coro would deal with those conflicting emotions.  They managed some amazing mood changes, from complete control over the calm, grim statement that “all flesh is as the grass” to joyous proclamations minutes later.  They subtly portrayed many states of mind: reflective, anxious, confident, and ecstatic. 

Pro Coro added to their regular numbers for this show, but the choir was still smaller than some I’ve heard sing the Requiem.  This made it look easy for them to keep their sound toned-down for subdued sections, but they also had no trouble pulling out all the stops for bigger moments.  The balance between the choir and Jeremy Spurgeon and Roger Admiral at the accompanying piano was just right.  Janet Smith’s soprano solo on the fifth movement initially hit me as pretty restrained, but in the context of the contemplative words she was singing it was appropriate.

When the music ended I was a happy camper: the cozy sweater still fit perfectly, so to speak.  Overall, the night was an example of the high quality classical music we can take advantage of in this city.  Thinking about things further, though, I was puzzled that I could walk away so calmly from music about death.  Sure there was angst, but it wondered if maybe it hadn’t been enough.  I had a vague suspicion that I was supposed to feel a little more disturbed about my own immortality.

Or maybe not.  Maybe I need to leave the concert hall thinking “that was good” and let that be enough.  In fact, that’s probably what Brahms was going for: the idea that you don’t need to dwell on despair but can confront it realistically and move on.  Perhaps that’s why Pro Coro chose this for Easter weekend, pointing us towards the holiday’s message of hope and new beginnings.  In that case, they gave us exactly what we needed.

Pro Coro has finished their 2009/2010 concert season but has good things planned for the fall.  Also, they have free pizza and drinks for the under-26 crowd at intermission.  Worth checking out!


more in Music Feature     |     posted Apr 5th, 2010 at 9:42am     

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