A unanimous standing ovation at Carnegie Hall … something performers notch on their bedposts. You might not expect such a rowdy crowd at a choral works concert, but Monday, Oct. 24, a magnificent reading of Bach’s “Magnificat” and a sublime, shattering performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” proved irresistible to the sold-out crowd. The excitement generated proved why these works—283 and 225 years old, respectively—have such a lasting foothold in the concert repertory.

Deserved accolades

The 90 excellent singers of CHORgemeinschaft Neubeuern and the 50-member KlangVerwaltung Orchester performed as if one person under the adroit, energetic direction of Maestro Enoch zu Guttenberg.

The four top-notch vocal soloists were German soprano and mezzo-soprano Susanne Bernhard and Anke Vondung, Austrian tenor Daniel Johannsen and bass Tareq Nazmi. They all deserved avid acclaim.

‘Magnificat’ in a capsule

Bach’s ‘Magnificat’ flew by with abundant sonic variety, from the zesty opening chorus to moments of calm reflection. Bach ingeniously set to music the 88 Latin words found in Luke 1:46-55 of the “Vulgate,” moderating tempi and volume according to the expressive passage’s beautiful words and sentiments, where Mary extols, or magnifies (“Magnificat”), Jehovah for the privilege she will have to bear Jesus, the future Messiah.

Stunning standouts in Bach

Voices and instruments created unforgettable moments, like these:

  • Daniel Johannsen’s lovely tenor in the incredibly florid roller-coaster ride of “Deposuit potentes,” with Bach’s imitative downward plunge on the phrase “He has dethroned rulers,” before appropriately soaring again with “and has exalted the lowly.”
  • Günther Vallery and Isabelle Soulas exquisitely duetted in the flute obbligato, a constant throughout “Esurientes,” jarringly ending mid-phrase.
  • Spare isn’t bare, as in the ensuing luscious “Suscepit Israel” duet. Soprano Susanne Bernhard and mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung spun intertwining vocal lines over Anja Lechner’s delicate cello, Makio Kataoka’s faint trumpet and Olga Watts on inconspicuous organ.
  • Solid technique underpinned incredibly mellifluous note-spinning in bass Tareq Nazmi’s deployment of his gorgeous instrument, which easily plums the deepest depths in his brief aria, “Quia fecit mihi magna.” Without booming, the towering Mr. Nazmi richly and resonantly propelled his lines with utter clarity to the highest balcony’s far reaches.

Shattering sublimity of Mozart’s ‘Requiem’

Orchestra, chorus and soloists produced stunningly contrasting effects, at both low- and high-decibel levels:

  • The chorus’ hushed entry, beseeching eternal rest, floated atop deceptively quiet but agitatedstrings before giving way to an overwhelming “Kyrie,” producing goosebumps aplenty.
  • This was nothing compared to the hair-raising frisson of the ensuing “Dies irae,” in which Maestro Guttenberg eked unprecedented, skin-tingling dynamics from the 90 choristers on the words “quantus” and “quando,” with many a soft attack exploding into fortissimo repeatedly at lightning speed—an effect that has escaped all prior conductors and ensembles, in concert halls and recording studios.
  • The male section’s “Rex tremendae majestatis” violently erupted, unleashing a sonic magma flood befitting the words “King of fear-inspiring majesty,” whereupon the wispiest women whispered their heart-wrenching plea: “Salve me” (Save me).
  • Lacrimosa,” over weepy violins, the lyrical pinnacle of melting beauty, wafts delicately, then—as if mounting a stairway—steadily increases in intensity till becoming an all-enveloping aural caress of bracing strength.

The soloists blended handsomely in “Recordare,” a quartet with harmonies and trills that, at times, remind one of the most lyrical passages of the best Fiordiligi-Dorabella duets in the composer’s opera “Così fan tutte,” leaving one hoping for a chance to see all four on the opera stagesomeday soon.

(Hey, what about “Così fan tutte”?)For a performance like Monday's, “Bravi!” seemed so inadequate.

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