Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir team up for Brahms’ Ein Deutsche Requiem

When I first looked at the calendar of concerts for the year, I highlighted last night’s as one near the top of my priority list. It had been a number of years since hearing a live performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsche Requiem Op. 45 but it is a work that I can always listen to and count on a feeling of euphoria. Heading out to Roy Thomson Hall last evening to hear the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, I anticipated a thrilling concert. It did not disappoint.

The Brahms Requiem is unique in the history of music. It uses texts from the Lutheran Bible selected by the composer rather than the words of the Catholic mass for the dead. It is sung in German rather than Latin. It is a personal reflection of faith for the Lutheran leaning Brahms. Much has been said about it being a reflection of his grief over both his mother’s death and that of his mentor and friend Robert Schumann. In both cases he was filled with guilt about not being present at their time of need. His grief was all-consuming. Nevertheless, the work embraces a spirit of hope both in the words and in the music. It is no wonder that the work was an instant success from its premiere in 1869 and subsequent performances in major cities of Europe soon after.

Music Director Peter Oundjian, has been on a quest to finish his tenure with the TSO with a season of masterpiece performances. Last week, it was Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor; This week it was the Requiem. Brahms’ fame spread far and wide following performances of the Concerto and Requiem. Brahms was at last the true successor of Beethoven as Schumann had predicted. Oundjian couldn’t have done better than getting this final season started with such great music.

Oundjian led last night’s performance brilliantly bringing out the arching musical lines, the reflective sensitivity, and the dramatic moments. He brought an understanding to the music from a lifetime of living with the score. It didn’t hurt that he had superb soloists, a well-trained symphonic choir, and a fine orchestra at his disposal giving life to his interpretation. 

​The Canadian baritone Russell Braun, loved for his work on the operatic and concert stages, never disappoints. He was warmly expressive in his solo work. His pleading tone came through in the Psalm asking God to give him a glimpse into his destiny. Braun was last heard in the powerful title role of the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Louis Riel by Harry Somers. He has upcoming engagements south of the border and in Europe. 

Russell Braun (baritone), Erin Wall (soprano), Maestro Peter Oundjian and TSO

Photo Credit: Jag Gundu

Russell Braun(baritone), Erin Wall (soprano), Maestro Peter Oundjian and TSO

Photo Credit: Jag Gundu

Russell Braun(baritone), Erin Wall (soprano), Maestro Peter Oundjian and TSO

Photo Credit: Jag Gundu

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 1 2017

The choir had by far the largest workload in the seventy-minute work. It was more than up for the challenge. Its first magical entry came as if out of nothing followed by glorious musical lines layered one on top of another until the sopranos soared with magnificent tone. TMC’s Artistic Director, Noel Edison had prepared the one hundred and thirty-five singers to give a spectacular performance. 

​The performance exceeded my anticipatory excitement. It was more than a fine choir and world class soloists. Oundjian created a synergy among the orchestral and vocal forces. Whether in an a capella moment, in the persistent timpani, the oboe and flute solos or in the powerful tutti moments complete with organ, the music was momentous.

On Saturday, October 7 at 7:30pm, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will present the newly commissioned work Adizokan by Eliot Britton. Conducted by Gary Kulesha, the work is “a new genre-defying creation that includes indigenous vocals, electroacoustic and orchestral music, dance, and film to explore indigenous connections to ancestral origins”. 

Canadian soprano, Erin Wall sang with ease and clarity in every register. Her voice projected through the orchestra and over the choir without a hint of strain. Toronto audiences won’t have to wait long to hear her again. She will be singing the title role of Richard Strauss’ Arabella this month with the Canadian Opera Company. This is a role that she sang at the MET a few seasons back.


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