The clarinet laments, the choir rages, the violins weave forest threads, Julie-Marie Sundal (photo) contributes her passionate contra-alto, Marcelina Román her beguiling, bronze-colored shimmering soprano. Turbulent folk scenes alternate with bucolic idyll, ecstatic love scenes and monumental natural tone paintings. Greetings from Wagner’s “Tristan”, as well as from Strauss and Mendelssohn: Biblical oratorios are rarely so sensual and easy to drink.
One more thing that no one knows today. Georg Schumann set the Old Testament story of the migrant Ruth, who returns home from exile with her mother-in-law Naomi after tragic strokes of fate and is first badly discriminated against before she falls in love. The longtime director of the Singakademie zu Berlin created one of the most popular works at the turning point between late romanticism and musical modernity: After its premiere in 1908, “Ruth” became a veritable worldwide success.
The Berlin Philharmonic Choir, conducted by Jörg-Peter Weigle, likes to move off the beaten track of the repertoire.
Until the Nazis outlawed the oratorio after initially trying to “neutralize” the Jewish subject. The events were moved to China and the final jubilant chorus provided with a propaganda text.
It is thanks to the Berlin Philharmonic Choir that the two-hour work, which had been thoroughly forgotten even after 1945, is gradually being revived. In 2003, the choir performed the oratorio again for the first time after almost 60 years. In the meantime, “Ruth” has also been interpreted by the Göttinger Vokalensemble and the Hamelin Kantorei – and now again by the Philharmonic Choir under the direction of Jörg-Peter Weigle, together with the Brandenburg State Orchestra Frankfurt.
What rousing, touching, but also irritating music. Intoxicating because of the action potential, when the excellently arranged and exquisitely differentiating (only sometimes difficult to understand) choir in the Philharmonie, hissing and sneering, shows the rumor mill in which a crowd becomes a mob. Touching because of the empathetic, sighing orchestra, above all the solo clarinet with its catchy main theme, and the eerie romance in the “Choir of Nightly Spirits”. Also touching because of the love duet between Ruth and the field owner Boas (Hanno Müller-Brachmann with a sonorous, kindly baritone), who recognizes the woman of his life in the penniless refugee who is picking up corn waste. And irritating, because the happy ending, which is also tonally so harmonious, is exhausted in pure apotheosis. It’s a bit like Wagner’s Isolde being led down the aisle in her wedding dress rather than to her death.
Berlin Philharmonic Choir force of nature
Nevertheless, “Ruth” should definitely be heard more often, if only because of the utopian moment when Jewish synagogue chants and Christian-Occidental “Amen” are interwoven at the beginning of the second part of the oratorio. Peaceful coexistence instead of brutal extermination in the Shoah: a “road not taken”, also in music history.