A courageous, original concert in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church: under the direction of Constantin Alex, the Philharmonic Choir and the Symphonic Orchestra of the Humboldt University commemorate the present of transience with rarely heard psalm settings and funeral music from three centuries – in the middle of this crisis-riddled one Summer.
The thematic bracket is formed by two works from the time of the First World War, Max Reger’s 1915 cantata “Der Einsiedler”, based on a text by Joseph von Eichendorff, and Lili Boulanger’s setting of the 130th Psalm, “Du fond de l’abîme” from 1917 .
In all its late-romantic chromaticism, Reger’s work makes one think of Caspar David Friedrich’s sunsets, of the calm after an exhausting day’s work. The baritone Johannes Schwarz sings believably and touchingly about loneliness and world-weariness, while his exemplary legato and the richness of color in his voice bring every word to life.
The emotional highlight of the evening follows after the break. After the Latin version of the psalm “De profundis clamavi” was heard in the Renaissance version by Josquin Desprez, Gustav Mahler’s symphonic “Funeral Ceremony” from his 2nd symphony is followed by Lili Boulanger’s French version of the 130th psalm: In “Du fond de l’abîme” there is no trace of a romantically transfigured remoteness. The composer demands tonal extremes from everyone involved, which shakes up the audience in its intensity.
“From the depths I call, Lord to you”: There is lamentation, demands and accusations, as if the terminally ill, only 24-year-old composer was directing her personal pain to heaven. In the work, which is situated between expressive monumentality and intimate delicacy – especially in the “Iahvé Adona?” calls from the choir – there is always a doubt as to whether the call will be heard at all.
Everyone involved masters the demanding works with great seriousness and musicality. The diction of the singers is just as excellent as the tonal balance and the interplay between choir, orchestra and organ.
An achievement, considering the muggy and hot temperatures in the sold-out church and the huge ensemble with around 200 performers, who are led by Constantin Alex in a sovereign and energetic manner. The audience appreciates the evening with enthusiasm.