Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Triumphant Triumphlied Brahms Prom 62 OAE

Brahms Triumphlied triumphed at the all-Brahms Prom 62 at the Royal Albert Hall,  London, with Marin Alsop, the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, the Choir of the Enlightement and soloist Benjamin Appl. Brahms's Triumphlied (Op 55, 1872) was written to mark the first unification of Germany, and the defeat of France, which hitherto had dominated the European balance of power. The British weren't keen either, since the new nation competed with British industry, trade and naval control.  The 1914-1918  War was a direct result of this rivalry. Triumphlied wasn't ever going to be popular in such circumstances. But no nation has a monopoly on nationalism. Now perhaps we have the historical perspective to hear the piece in context and appreciate its merits.

The first unification of Germany marked the fulfilment of the Romantic dream of a nation no longer torn apart by hundreds of warring states. Significantly, Brahms chose his text from The Book of Revelation in the Bible, focusing on Chapter 19, where a vast multitude gather to celebrate a cosmic marriage (unity) . Hence the jubilant Allelujas and the punchy, optimistic rhythms. Brahms is celebrating hope after struggle. The different threads in the chorus and orchestra interweave, like garlands.Beautifully precise part singing.  In Revelation, a white horse appears in the skies,  with eyes of fire, bearing a horsemen who represents the King of Kings. Out of the tumult, the solo baritone's voice rises, clear and forceful. Despite his youth, Benjamin Appl already has a huge following. I've kept missing his appearance, but now I can hear why he has impressed so many. He doesn't have much to sing in Triumphlied, but he makes those moments ring out gloriously. Listen to him next at the Oxford Lieder Festival in October.

Brahms Alto Rhapsody (Op 53, 1869)  made an interesting contrast to the Triumphlied.  Here Brahms chose his text from an excerpt from Goethe Harzreise im Winter. The soloist, this time a mezzo soprano (Jamie Barton), is again surrounded by large orchestra and chorus, yet the mood is desolate. The solo part is much more dominant, moving slowly and purposefully over the forces behind her. Jamie Barton has one of those big voices that impress. She won the BBC Singer of the World in Cardiff and the Richard Tucker Prize more recently. She has a nice, rich voice but needs to work on her diction. The Alto Rhaspsody is one of the finest vehicles for resplendent mezzo and contralto voices. Kathleen Ferrier, Christa Ludwig, Janet Baker,  Brigitte Fassbender, and Alice Coote  (First Night of the Proms 2009) set almost impossibly high standards for any young singer. 

Framing the Triumphlied and the Alto Rhapsody were  the purely orchestral Academic Festival Overture and Brahms Symphony no 1 in C minor.  The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are a n excellent orchestra, and Brahms is a composer Marin Alsop usually does well.  Last year at the Proms, they did Brahms German Requiem together. Like the Triumphlied and the Alto Rhapsody, the German Requiem predicates on the singing. The non vocal [pieces in this prom didn't quite come alive,  but we should be glad for the Choir of the Enlightenment.

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