John Oliver is not going to be available to prepare us for our upcoming Brahms performance. (Assistant conductor Bill Cutter will be doing the honors.) This may not be that big a deal, given that at Bill’s preliminary rehearsal, I saw fewer than 10 hands raised when Bill asked who hadn’t sung it before.
This is only too bad because I had been planning to make a 4×4 “JO Brahms Bingo” card for rehearsals this weekend, using the 16 coachable comments that I expected from him during the run-throughs. That’s because, having sung the Brahms with him 3 times now (twice with TFC, once with MIT), I’ve gotten used to many of the particulars he emphasizes.
None of it truly matters once the conductor arrives and adds his own personal stamp to our performance. But anything he doesn’t change becomes The Way We’re Doing It, and I like that.
So here are the minor moments I love in John Oliver’s interpretation of the piece. Many are already indicated in the score; much of this won’t mean anything to those not intimately familiar with the piece. And Bill will likely not observe them, as he has his own technicalities to pursue. But it’s how MY favorite Brahms Requiem goes.
1. Making that first entrance (and later recap) as light a touch on Selig as possible
2. Two /t/ — Articulating lied tragen and und tragen carefully
3. Getting in and out quickly on the selig swells, to match the brass
4. The darker tone, legato, and double consonants of denn alles Fleisch
5. The flinging sensation of spitting out wird weg
6. Aspirating the /h/ and rolling the /r/ for movement III’s opening Herr
7. Each Nun Herr sounding like two bell peals ringing out
8. The stentando keine Qual finish to the fugue
9. The piano espressivo melodies for the tenors and basses
10. Sempre piano for the recapitulation
11. Stepping back to become the accompaniment for the orchestra at Wohl denen
12. The all-important agogic accent, separation, and subito piano before the final immerdar.
13. The prayer-like intonation and cadence of einen seine Mutter each time
14. The drudgery and step-by-step plodding of the opening Denn wir haben, like dragging yourself home after a long day of work
15. A big separation and subito piano right before the next to last Ehre und Kraft
16. Attacca this movement, sopranos be damned.