It's difficult to do classical albums. I don't just mean that in the sense that it's hard to listen through them. I mean, it's downright difficult to find the specific performance that was nominated.
This one was done by the Professional Choral Institute & Seraphic Fire. Patrick Dupré Quigley was the conductor; James K. Bass was the chorus master. Other names of note included Justin Blackwell and Scott Allen Jarrett on piano, Paul Max Tipton, baratone, and Teresa Wakim, soprano.
Seraphic Fire is a young professional chamber choir based in Miami. This is said to be "a revelatory and fresh rendering of Brahms' masterwork." His original four hand piano score is used, and creates, apparently, this "ravishing tour de force for keyboard and voices." (Yay for Amazon editorial reviews, by the way.)
Well, damn. Now I'm sort of excited for this!
I: "Selig sind, die da Lied tragen" is the first portion. It's beautiful. Things are taken very slowly and built in this gradual, enchanting way that actually brings you in to the music, not just throws it in your face. There's no pressure to have an immediate reaction to the opening. There's no need to like or hate it based on chorus. It just is and that's enough.
II: "Denn alles Fleisch, en ist wie Gras" brings this incredible choral sound. Now, like I said, impossible to find the whole thing, and I can't buy it right now, so I am getting it in preview snippets thanks to iTunes. But, from what I can tell in the minute or so I get to hear, the choir and piano work incredibly well together. The choir voices are so well mixed and gentle - no one is overpowering another. The piano has its moment to shine as well, allowing the actual transitions from portion to portion of whatever tale Brahms is trying to tell.
III: "Herr, lehre doch mich" is the first time I'm actually getting to hear the male soloists' voice. It's very strong, and deeper than I expected. I never did care for the harsher accents in song for though. With a choir it's one thing, but when one voice is making it very apparent, I don't know. Something just doesn't sit right for my ears.
IV: "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen" sort of creates this wonderful overlap of voices. It's almost like we're not even listening to a choir of people, but just pretty elements of the world woven together. Sections then get their individual moments, building after each other and joining like there's this desire to remain one. All the while, a piano is steadily supporting them and almost plays the thread that binds.
V: "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit" is the first time I've now gotten to hear the female soloist really shine, again, given the clip listening. She has quiet a powerful voice as well, and quite a mature one. When reading the description on the group performing this, I was expecting quiet youthful voices, but I'm not complaining. This recording's interesting in that she sounds a little distant. Knowing how they recorded this would be awesome. If it was a studio recording, they used reverb and achieved a concert hall sound. If it was live, they may have ben in an actual hall or church. Oh the possibilities.
VI: "Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt" has a determination to it. Almost as though it's the epic point of action in the piece as a whole. There's the explanation and big battle before the calm at the end. Everyone's involved to their fullest, giving their sides of the story. Have I mentioned how much I love having a blog where I can ramble this much through the weird thoughts in my head?
VII: "Selig sind die Toten" is the final portion of the album and piece as a whole. There is actually a finality sound to it. The voices are more solemn than gentle as they have been. The notes are resolving in hopeful but definite ways. The show is over, and it's time to bring the lights down.
Overall, this is a beautiful piece. I really enjoyed so much about it, and the simplicity that somehow created such a majestic sound still astounds me.