Thursday, May 25, 2000

Dusseldorf chorus provides pleasing May Festival treat

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lovers of a cappella choral music had an unusual treat Tuesday night, when the Concert Chorus of the City of Dusseldorf performed as guests of the Cincinnati May Festival.

        Set in the gleaming St. Peter-in-Chains Cathedral downtown, a new venue for the May Festival, the fourth concert spotlighted the 130-voice, all-volunteer ensemble. In its first visit to Cincinnati, the German chorus is also singing with the May Festival Chorus in major works in Music Hall this season.

        In Germany, its roots go back to 1818, and its distinguished music directors include Mendelssohn and Schuman. Recently, the chorus performed on an EMI Classics album of Zemlinsky's choral music, directed by the May Festival's James Conlon with the Cologne Philharmonic.

        The chorus' director, Raimund Wippermann, led an attractive program that drew upon the German repertoire that has figured so strongly in its tradition, as well as some lesser-known gems by Scandinavian composers.

Precision, richness
        Precision, balance and richness of sound were the hallmarks of this program. It is always a pleasure to hear German choruses, with their clipped enunciation and disciplined attack. This chorus sang with utmost clarity, but it also had a smoothness and blend that was striking. Mr. Wippermann drew a sweeping palette of vocal color and expression from his singers, and the chorus seemed to breathe as a single unit.

        Mendelssohn's Two Psalms, Op. 78, which opened the program, were beautifully phrased, and the German text was clear, even in the Cathedral's reverberant acoustic. For this work, the men stood in the center, where their voices formed a solid rock upon which the Psalms' harmonic foundation was based. The choral texture was refined and dark-hued.

        The chorus made a compelling case for three modern settings of mass movements. Agneta Skold's “Kyrie” for women's voices began with a sweeping, ascending leap. Mr. Wippermann sang the angular melody of Lars Edlund's “Gloria,” while he conducted the choral responses of exclamations and whispers. This piece was unique for its avant-garde techniques, such as chord clusters and speech-song. Knut Nysted's brief “Sanctus” was a vibrant addition.

        The group of pieces concluded with Joseph Rheinberger's flowing and beautifully balanced “Abendlied” (Evening Song), later repeated as an encore.

Haydn lightly articulated
        Songs by Haydn and Brahms formed the next section. Four of Haydn's Multi-Part Songs were sung with light articulation and a mixture of poignancy and humor. Selections from Brahms' Gypsy Songs, Op. 103 were imaginative and charming. Pianist Reinhard Kaufmann was the alert accompanist for these works; unfortunately, much of the pianistic detail of Brahms was lost in that acoustic.

        The chorus ended on a lighthearted note, with “Rondo Lapponico” by Swede Gunnar Hahn (its picturesque text included reindeer calls), and Mendelssohn's “Abschied vom Walde” (Farewell to the Wood), notable for its beauty of tone and expansive crescendos. Hugo Alfven's “Zum Tanze da geht ein Madel” (A Young Girl Goes Dancing) was a smiling finale.

        The most unusual number of the evening, however, was Mozart's “Laudamus Te” from Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor, performed by “artistic whistler” Hans Martin Werner. In a May Festival first, Mr. Werner whistled its leaps, trills and runs with impressive musicality and breath control, earning bravos from the 770 listeners.

        The program opened with three well-prepared pieces by the Children's Choir of Greater Cincinnati, led by founder Robyn Reeves Lana, and sung with charming spirit.

        The May Festival continues Friday and Saturday at Music Hall.


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