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Classical Notes

Where do you stand on Norrington's Brahms?

Posted at 2:02 PM on March 6, 2007 by Don Lee

Did you hear last Friday's Minnesota Orchestra concert in person or on the air? I'd love to know whether my impressions match up with anyone else's. No water cooler opportunities yet, and neither the Star Tribune nor the Pioneer Press seems to have reviewed it--perhaps because Thursday's performance was snowed out.

Sir Roger Norrington's historically informed approach to Brahms' German Requiem left me feeling just a little cheated. At the start, the musicians seemed tentative, as though they weren't sure they could be convincing without vibrato. (Norrington defends his no-vibrato stance in an interview with Brian Newhouse, which you can find here.)

My main let-down was in the second movement, the ominous "Denn alles Fleisch," which ought to have the power of a juggernaut. With Norrington at the reins, it was closer to light cavalry.

But after that, it got better. Norrington's lean approach helped clarify the flowing, melodious "Wie lieblich" (a surprise) and (more predictably) effectively underscored the punctuation in the next-to-last movement, "Denn wir haben hie."

The performance got a standing ovation at Orchestra Hall. But that's not necessarily a sign that I'm the only one who had reservations about Norrington's Requiem. Am I?