THE Lucerne Festival, in Switzerland, has been going for more
than 75 years. Now it comprises Easter and summer festivals,
and a piano festival. The Easter Festival, established in 1988,
takes place two weeks before Easter and runs through Palm Sunday,
with a special focus on sacred music.
This year, Ingo Metzmacher and the SWR Vocal Ensemble of
Stuttgart (SWR, Südwestrundfunk, is the broadcasting corporation
for south-western Germany) gave an elegant and spacious performance
of three Psalm settings by Felix Mendelssohn for unaccompanied
choir. The choir sang with a clean focus and projected clearly into
the body of the concert hall at the KKL.The texts came from Psalms
2, 43 and 22.1-8,14-16, 18-28.
In Psalm 2, there was effective repeating of the phrase "rod of
iron" and a very florid setting of the Glory be to the Father, with
antiphonal entries of varying speeds and volumes.
Psalm 43, "Judge me, O God", was treated effectively with male
singers leading and the female singers giving the response, and
with the final affirmation in unison. Psalm 22, "My God, why hast
thou forsaken me?" was the big sing for full choir, with a brisk
section for the text "He trusted in the Lord to deliver him".
Another noteworthy section was the start of "Ye who fear the Lord,
praise him". Following entries were fast, and melded into a
convincing affirmation of the goodness of our Lord.
After the interval, Metzmacher conducted the SWR Symphony
Orchestra of Baden-Baden and Freiburg in a sensitive and
illuminating performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony.
My second concert was a performance of Dvořák's Stabat
Mater. Mariss Jansons conducted the Bavarian Radio Symphony
Orchestra and Chorus. The soloists were Erin Wall (soprano), Mihoko
Fujimura (alto), Christian Elsner (tenor), and Liang Li (bass).
After a lengthy orchestral introduction, the tenors open the
choral "Stabat Mater dolorosa", duly taken up by the
remaining choir and the quartet of soloists in their turn, before
closing with a reprise of the opening text sung by the soloists and
chorus, accompanied by a soothing orchestration.
Thus a template has been set for the entire work. The woodwind,
often lower woodwind, precede and accompany choral entries, and the
ends of many sections of text feature the flute, alone or combined
with other instruments. Each section begins with dark orchestral
intensity and ends supported by a cool and calming lightness in the
The orchestral playing was truly supportive of the choir and
soloists. This is not a work of sweeping melodies. Jansons drew, as
ever, a poised orchestral line: be it moving from instrument to
instrument, or around the sections of the orchestra.
That said, the final section "While my body here decays", has
spirited, dramatic and loud moments. After a reprise of the opening
line, the decay of the orchestral sound was very atmospheric. The
upper strings seem to spiral endlessly upwards over steady beats on
the timpani and double basses. This was a stunning performance by
The following night, I heard the same orchestra and conductor
give a persuasive performance of Bruckner's Sixth Symphony.