Chock full of intricate counterpoint and enough extended phrases to send even experienced singers and wind players into pulmonary arrest, the "German Requiem" of Johannes Brahms is one of the true challenges of the choral repertoire.
Sunday afternoon, the combined choirs and glee clubs of the Naval Academy, Haverford and Bryn Mawr colleges and the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra met that challenge admirably in a concert at Alumni Hall.
Composed while Brahms was grieving for his mother and his dear friend Robert Schumann, "Ein deutsches Requiem" is a deeply personal work. Brahms abandoned the Roman liturgy, and instead used selections from the Old and New Testaments that resonated with him. It is impossible to hear the piece and not be moved by the consolation the composer himself must have taken from his extraordinary creation.
The Brahms Requiem is an unwieldy, moody, off-center work that demands a personal statement from the podium as much as any composition ever written.
Conductor John Barry Talley apparently has lived with the "German Requiem" all his life. He led a performance of integrity, with no attempts made to prettify, lighten or over-facilitate music that simply must be dealt with on it's own terms.
It was a committed, scrupulously musical account that communicated the complex beauty of the score.
"Denn alles Fleisch" was taken at a daringly slow pace that nonetheless seemed right because of the conviction with which it was played and sung. Death had plenty of sting in the sixth movement, not because the tempo was juiced up, but because the built-in points of emphasis were carefully observed. Only in the final "Selig Sind" was one aware of the passage of time.
The young choristers sang with sensitivity to the shifting moods of Johannes Brahms ("So seid nun geduldig" was particularly lovely), and both soloists were exemplary.
Once its customary early intonation problems were fixed, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra sounded in good form, especially the timpanist whose percussive heartbeat does so much to animate Brahms' affirmation of life.