Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 2, 2010

All Brahms Evening

Berkshire Choral Festival
Berkshire School, Sheffield MA
July 31, 2010

by Barbara Stroup

The Alpine-like setting of The Berkshire School provides a beautiful backdrop to the Festival’s season, when choristers from all over the world choose one of four intensive week-long ‘camps’ to rehearse and concertize under notable conductors. Vance Y. George led this week’s group in a program of Brahms that ranged, in his words, from the ‘sublime to the gutsy.’

George began with the sublime, “Schicksaslied” (Song of Destiny). This work started with orchestra lushness, and the instrumentalists kept it calm and sedate, allowing the audience to enjoy the magnificent harmonies of the score. The chorus was on top of their role – indeed throughout the program-- never stumbling over the language, managing a vocal balance and avoiding shrillness even at the top of the required range. The confidence of their singing speaks well of both the skill they bring to the program and to the ability of their conductor to prepare these 100 adult singers. Orchestral support was solid, with bold solos of flute and oboe and deep resonance from the basses.

Both the orchestra and chorus achieved a light effect on the “Liebeslieder Waltzer” but returned to the sublime for “Nänie.” George’s explication of the mythological references was valuable to the audience, and the chorus’ achievement was once again successful in intonation and in ensemble presentation with the orchestra.

George added a “Hallelujah Chorus” to the program as a surprise offering, but the real surprise of the evening was the beauty of the contrapuntal writing and the Amen section that closes the short “Geistlicheslied.” Brahms wrote this ten years before completing “Ein deutsches Requiem,” but it foreshadowed many of the fugal effects he used in the later work -- both works were movingly performed.

What this evening lacked, in contrast to performances during previous seasons, was a feeling of energy and drive. There was a restraint from the stage that exceeded the respect due these pieces. The chorus was smaller by half than in the other weeks of the Festival, and the audience filled only half the seats. The new facility gives back a dry sound, but this reviewer hopes that future Festival programs will be able to reverberate with more excitement.