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A full house in Winston-Salem's Stevens Center on April 20 heard a performance of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem in which everything that could go right did go right. How often does that happen? Too often, in the Triangle at least, the best efforts of choruses have been lost in too-reverberant church acoustics. Sometimes one or both singers have shown strain or failed to project clearly. Sometimes the orchestra has been too loud, covering either the chorus or the soloists.
With its intimate scale and full stage shell, Stevens Center has the perfect acoustics for large choral works. Since I was seated in the middle of the third row, behind the conductor, I had feared that the orchestra would easily drown out the chorus, arrayed in sections across the back of the stage. Instead, conductor Peter Perret kept the forces so carefully balanced that every single word of the text was easily followed in the handy program insert, with a parallel translation. The tight ensemble and precise enunciation of the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale and the NCSA Cantata Singers were tributes to careful preparation by James Allbritten. All sections of the Winston-Salem Symphony played at the tops of their forms. The low strings - the basses, cellos and violas - play central roles in most of the work, giving a dark and somber mood. Perret chose perfect tempos with relentless rhythms underpinning the inexorable forward motion. In the second movement, the multiple repeats of the stanza beginning "Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras" ("For all flesh is like grass") were outstanding. The prominent oboe solos that occur in multiple movements were brilliantly realized by John Ellis, and timpanist Massie Johnson perfectly judged the initially subtle basic pulse that lends rhythmic support throughout the third movement until it roars into a crescendo at the end.
Bass-baritone John Williams, a frequent guest artist throughout the Piedmont, has an unusually high voice but conveyed the words with clarity and feeling in the third and sixth movements. I have admired the full and glowing soprano of Emily Amber Newton in several oratorio and opera roles, and those virtues were evident in the fifth movement, where precise diction and strong protection were joined to a soaring melodic line.