This weekend two of the three works on the St. Louis Symphony program are making their first appearances on the Powell Hall Stage. That's not exactly news; the SLSO has given local audiences a good many local and even world premieres over the years. What's remarkable is that this time the local premieres are by Beethoven.
The St. Louis Symphony has a long history with Carl Orff's 1936 “scenic cantata" "Carmina Burana," from its first performance back in 1961 with Edouard Van Remoortel on the podium to David Robertson's nicely balanced performance back in May of 2011. There's even a fine 1994 recording with Leonard Slatkin and an all-star lineup of soloists that is apparently still available both in disc form and as an MP3 download from amazon.com.
The text of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, with its apocalyptic images of death and redemption, has inspired composers to produce some of their most profound and idiosyncratic work. The Italian operatic master Giuseppe Verdi, while so indifferent to religion that he was effectively an agnostic, was no exception. His 1874 "Messa da Requiem," inspired by the deaths of Rossini and the Italian poet and patriot Alessandro Manzoni, overflows with brilliantly theatrical moments, from the hair-raising Dies Irae to the heartfelt Recordare and epic Libera Me. A good performance should not spare the drama.
It was cold and snowy outside Powell Hall this weekend, but inside it was all warmth and light as David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus unwrapped an early Christmas present in the form of the first three cantatas from Bach's "Christmas Oratorio."
It has been a heavy month or so for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. On November 16th they performed Britten 's dramatic Peter Grimes at Powell, followed by a repeat performance at Carnegie Hall on November 22nd, Britten 's centenary. At the same time they were rehearsing the first three cantatas of Bach 's 1734-35 Christmas Oratorio for concerts this Friday and Saturday (December 6 and 7) with David Robertson and the orchestra.
Writing in the Larousse Encyclopedia of Music, Donald Paine notes that Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," written for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, "may stand as representative of his genius and of the theme that recurs throughout his work: the indictment of human folly as it shows itself both in the tragedy and wastage of war and in the corruption of human innocence."