After seeing the Berlin Radio Choir open the White Light Festival earlier this week with their indelible, interactive version of Brahms' German Requiem, it was a shock to see them arrive in formal concert attire last night at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in midtown. It was a potent reminder that these 70-odd singers comprise what is arguably the world's leading choral ensemble - like that moment when Princess Leia appears at the end of the first Star Wars movie in her royal regalia instead of military attire.
Dutch conductor Gijs Leenars, who succeeded Simon Halsey last season as the Berlin Radio Choir's artistic director, arrived at a podium immediately to my right to lead a program spanning four centuries of (mostly) German music. Leenars, 38, was so close that I could hear the rustle of his jacket as he moved his arms.
Heinrich Schütz's "Is not Ephraim My Beloved Son?" was a paragon of 16th century polyphony, the choir positioned all around the nave to create an antiphonal effect in the acoustically-resonant church. Jumping ahead a century, the choir moved up front for a pair of Bach motets, "Do not fear" and "Come, Jesus, Come!" This was singing at it's most beautiful and ecstatic, with blending so seamless I couldn't hear a single individual voice. Providing the gratefully understated accompaniment were a pair of capable musicians from Trinity Church Wall Street: cellist Ezra Seltzer and organist Avi Stein.