Madison symphony orchestra & chorus
None of us were prepared to like an organ work quite that much. Neither did we know beforehand that this would be the American premiere of a composition written in 1921, but never performed publically until 1990.
Irish composer Stanford was well known in his day as a music teacher, composer and champion of something called the Second English Musical Renaissance, a late 19th Century effort by British composers to strike their own path in a concert scene dominated by their German Romantic counterparts. Stanford, who taught at Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, could count among his students luminaries such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams who helped further the cause.
MSO Maestro John DeMain had previously prepped the audience that Laube, a concert artist who also teaches at the Eastman School of Music, had a fairly provocative encore ready if we so desired.
The audience took the bait, but it didn’t take much coaxing to get Laube back on stage to perform the Allegro movement from Symphony No. 6, Op. 42 by Charles-Marie Widor, a thunderous organ solo that was even better appreciated by the audience than the Stanford work, and brought most of them to their feet.
And that was just for openers. The mammoth Brahms work, all 68-minutes of it, anchored the evening’s second half.
The German Requiem, completed in 1869, is one of few such pieces not written in the Latin of the Catholic Church. Brahms plucked his sacred text from Martin Luther’s Lutheran Bible, thinking it only fair then to cast the choral parts in his native German. English translations were available in the evening’s program as well as through supertitles above the stage.
MSO was joined by the Madison Symphony Chorus under the direction of Beverly Taylor. The integration of voices and instruments was, as usual, without peer. Guest artists soprano Devon Guthrie and bass-baritone Timothy Jones joined the local performers on stage, each turning in fine, albeit short performances as called for by the score.
The requiem’s huge musical arc was carried through Brahm’s lengthy composition with considerable aplomb by all the musicians and vocalists, who were well-equipped to take on the composition’s challenges. The audience, which may have numbered just a little more than half the house, rewarded the effort with its usual standing ovation. Unlike some cases, this one was well deserved for a performance sublime in both its details and execution.