113th Season: Programmes and Reviews (2016-2017)
Brahms Requiem & Mahler Rückert Lieder
Assembly Hall – Sunday 13 November 2016
Anita Watson (soprano), Alex Ashworth (baritone)
The Salomon Orchestra, leader John Ryan
Conducted by Rebecca Miller
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Under the skilled and inspired leadership of their conductor, Rebecca Miller, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society presented a most poignant programme in which music and words brought some understanding and comfort to the suffering in our chaotic world this Remembrance Sunday. Rebecca Miller in her introductory words reminded us that Brahms himself had considered calling his Requiem ‘A Human Requiem’ before settling on A German Requiem. This afternoon it was a celebration of humanity that extended through both works. Brahms’ A German Requiem was preceded by the Rückert-Lieder of Mahler for soprano and baritone soloists and orchestra.
Mahler has the ability to convey complex emotions through apparently simple melodies, and Anita Watson (soprano) and Alex Ashworth (baritone) brought out the full range of feeling exploring the variety of tonal colour through their admirable technique and sensitivity to the text with lovely orchestral playing by the Salomon Orchestra achieving sensitivity in phrasing and shaping and an admirable balance. The cor anglais was for me particularly emotive.
In Um Mitternacht Alex Ashworth portrayed with conviction the far-reaching journey of the soul as we are poised between the ephemeral and the eternal. Emotionally and intellectually, we were well prepared for the Requiem for which Brahms, rather than using the Roman liturgical text, freely selected verses from the Lutheran Bible which focus on death and eternity and the source of comfort in Christ.
To perform this work in German is a challenge but the choir were equal to the demands of the language despite the occasional loss of definition of consonants in some quieter passages.
Blessed are they that mourn was a moving opening with the choir responding to the subtlety of graded expression which established a suitably sombre mood. Particularly impressive was the stately and funereal Behold all flesh is as grass in the second movement, with its broad range of controlled dynamics and clarity of contrapuntal texture. This was truly magnetic and thrilling.
The baritone solo in Lord, let me know my end was moving and sincere in effective partnership with the choir giving clarity to the fugal writing and creating the climactic intensity.
The lyrical qualities of How lovely are thy dwellings were beautifully presented, and Anita Watson, in Ye now have sorrow, was poised and impressive in her phrasing, tone quality and shaping, as her voice added further colour and emotion to the work.
The penultimate movement in which the Requiem reaches its dramatic climax combined excellence of orchestral playing with well articulated intensity of the choir, reaching an electrifying Death where is thy sting. All this showed the choir at its glorious best.
The more delicate choral texture of the final movement was well realised with due poise and expression, concluding peacefully with a return to the opening motif of the work, and repeating the same opening word, Blessed – surely a message of hope.
Musicality and control permeated both works of the concert, stemming from Rebecca Miller’s baton through the orchestra and the singers who are to be congratulated on giving such a disciplined and moving performance. The prolonged applause confirmed the great appreciation that this music had provided in terms of humanity on this Remembrance Sunday.
13th November 2016
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