St Martin’s Church, London Road, Worcester, Saturday, April 6 2019
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir chose to programme Johannes Brahms’s magnificent Ein Deutsches Requiem (German Requiem); but with a difference. Instead of the usual orchestral accompaniment, we were treated to an arrangement for two pianos that used Brahms’s original 1869 version for piano duet as its basis.
Having only known the orchestral score, I was inevitably a little apprehensive as to whether this version would work. Brahms, a master writer for the piano did not leave the score wanting: neither too, did the choir. They gave a glorious performance (in German) under the insightful and energetic direction of their conductor Stephen Shellard.
Any doubts I may have had about this version were swept aside by the majestic opening movement ‘Blessed are they that mourn’. Even the sumptuous orchestral introduction was beautifully captured by the deep and sonorous legato lines of the two pianos, expertly played by Christopher Allsop and Robin Walker. From the perfectly paced opening, Stephen Shellard drew impassioned singing from the choir. Indeed, the choral singing throughout was compelling, incisive and well-balanced.
Of the performance’s many high points, I was especially impressed by the mighty chorus, ‘Behold, all flesh is as grass’, where the virtuosic piano writing and vigorous fugal textures added greatly to the drama. Equally striking was the thrilling singing in ‘For we have here no abiding city’. The faster sections were taken at a breathtaking pace with the pianos’ percussive incisiveness adding greatly to the overall excitement and rhythmic drive.
The soloists too added much to the success of this performance. Baritone Edward Seymour possessed a wonderfully lyrical tone and sang his solos with deft assurance, while soprano Sheila Davies was the highly expressive singer in ‘Now you have sorrow’; her bell-like clarity emerging most pleasingly against the backdrop of chorus and piano accompaniment.
Brahms envisaged his German Requiem essentially as consolation for those left behind. This concept reached its peak in the final movement, ‘Blessed are the dead’ and in spite of the valedictory nature of such a work, The German Requiem rises memorably in hushed affirmation.
The audience’s enthusiastic and appreciative response brought this 20th Anniversary Concert to a close and left many wondering what the next twenty years would bring: watch this space!