Emotions to the max
Of an entirely different order is Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody. We go from voices without instruments to a singer, with orchestra and choir. The Alto Rhapsody is an extraordinary piece. It is a long drawn out song in three parts.
It is written for the lowest female voice, a contra alto and halfway through the piece a male choir comes in to support her. That’s a combination that doesn’t happen often. And Brahms manages to exploit it to the fullest. This performance conducted by British conductor John Elliot Gardiner is a gem. Gardiner is a conductor with a love of choral work and that is always audible in the many recordings he has made with his Montiverdi Choir.
This recording is not the most technically advanced, but the music makes you forget that. Nathalie Stutzmann has a beautiful deep alto and she sings this piece stunningly. I did not know her, but some sleuthing revealed that she works primarily as a conductor. It is audible that she understands very well what this music is trying to say. Every note she sings is touching and precisely in proportion. Her voice is completely in the service of the music. The drama is palpable, without you ever getting the feeling that the singer is trying to prove herself and show us what amazing outbursts she can make.
In the third movement, when the drama turns into a pleading lullaby, the male chorus lifts her voice and lets her float on the sounds. Fantastic! And then we’ve only heard the first piece on the album which actually focuses on a Brahms symphony. Gardiner’s entire Brahms series, clearly identified by the related artwork on the album cover, is worthwhile.
He wraps the Brahms symphonies with choral works by contemporaries or musical soulmates. Brahms Symphony 2 – John Eliot Gardiner, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Monteverdi Choir, SDG, 2009