Here's the part about us:
With 150 singers compacted onto the Jemison Concert Hall stage with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra Friday, it wasn't easy to express those extremes -- musically, at least. Music Director Justin Brown did a fine job corralling the large flock, with only a few instances of uneasy ensemble noticeable. In that regard, the decision to leave the choral balcony empty was a wise one. But with more elbow room -- physically and acoustically -- a good performance of this romantic-era masterpiece could have been a great one.
Some of the finer moments of the work approached greatness. Driven by Brahms' moody, heart-wrenching melodies, the combined Birmingham Concert Chorale and UAB Concert Choir delivered warmth in "Denn alles Fleisch," the tenors belting out a startling "Aber des Herrn Wort." They hit their stride toward the end of "Denn wir habe hie," blending beautifully with the ASO brasses and strings. For the most part, though, sopranos were unfocused, the tenors weak.
So . . . the critical part . . . unfocused sopranos and weak tenors. One man's opinion and could be a function of where he was seated in the hall. The tenors, in fact, were pointed away from him. (he was sitting on the tenor side of the middle section on about the fifth row)
I think critics certainly have their place in helping us understand what we've heard . . . a little like political commentators after a debate. On the other hand, I know the audience showed their appreciation for about 3-4 minutes of sustained applause. Enough time for me to walk off the stage 4 times.
I felt really good about the work. There were a few unsteady places, a few truly powerful moments, and an overall excellent performance.