Not all requiems obsess about sin and final judgment, as was confirmed by Austin Symphony and Conspirare’s exhilarating performance of Johannes Brahms’ redemptive “A German Requiem” at the Long Center.
Have done with “peccata mundi,” or “sins of the world,” which darken the lyrics of so much music composed for the traditional Catholic funeral mass. Using Martin Luther’s translations of the Scriptures, Brahms created a seven-movement requiem for symphony, soloists and choir that starts out with the refreshing sentiment: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they will be comforted.”
That’s a good way to start a meditation on “joy,” “rejoicing,” “goodliness,” “patience,” “gladness” and “comfort.”
As they have shown repeatedly, Austin Symphony and Conspirare, separately and apart, can accomplish almost anything they care to attempt these days. How lucky we are to have them join forces — more than 150 musicians by my count — for this uplifting masterpiece. You read that right: I just called a requiem “uplifting.”
Conductor Peter Bay and guest conductor Craig Hella Johnson brought out the gently shifting moods of this monumental but not overpowering musical treatment of human grief and hope. Soprano Heather Phillips and baritone Paul Max Tipton responded by making their solos models of restraint, almost repose.
Speaking of restraint, Johnson conducted the program opener, Brahms’ Variations on a theme by Haydn, which takes a steady, dignified classical theme and slowly opens it up to dynamic variations through the richer sonorities of a Romantic response.