Review - 11 May 2019

The beauty and brilliance of Brahms

On Saturday 11th May the walls of St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater and the attentive audience inside, were treated to the beauty and brilliance of Brahms at the Bridgwater Choral Society’s spring concert.

Under the direction of conductor Iain Cooper, the evening began with Brahms’ ‘Song of Destiny’ completed in 1871. This is one of Brahms’ less frequently performed works which is a shame as within its duration of just a quarter of an hour, the full range of his dramatic compositional abilities is displayed. The choral work accompanied by orchestra is a setting of a poem by Holderlein about the pleasures of those who dwell in heaven and reminding the mortal that at last we also pass away. The orchestra under the direction of Brigid Kirkland-Wilson played with great expression and passion. The balance between choir and orchestra in the quiet opening passage was not good initially, but improved as the work progressed. The faster, restless middle section was given lots of energy and drive from orchestra and choir alike and the calm of the orchestral ending left a sense of peace.

For the remainder of the first half of the programme, the audience were treated to some solo songs by two very fine soloists. Thomas Humphreys (baritone) performed two Brahms lieder with great vocal tone and colour. Charlotte Newstead (soprano) also sang a song by Brahms, but excelled in her performance of two songs by Strauss. These really suited her voice and were performed with deep intensity and spaciousness. Both soloists were accompanied by Bulgarian pianist Raya Kostova whose sensitivity and empathy greatly enhanced the songs, producing performances of fine balance and dialogue.

The second half of the concert was given over to the main work of the evening, ‘The German Requiem’ by Brahms. This is a big work for any choir to take on, being divided into seven movements. The Choral Society rose to the challenge and overall gave a fine performance showing much careful preparation and understanding of this momentous work. Congratulations to the soprano section which produced some beautifully tuned top notes throughout. For me, the second movement was the moment where the choir really showed their finest singing and captured the drama of the words. ‘Behold all flesh is as grass and all the goodliness of man is as the flower that fadeth’. The phrases had much shape and the passages of rhythmic unison in the choral parts were sung with great focus and intensity. In movements three, five and six it was a pleasure to hear the baritone and soprano soloists again, joined by the choir. The fast section of movement six was well performed with a good sense of forward movement and a big sound for ‘then the trumpet shall be sounded’.

The work closes in the serene composure in which it starts and I was reminded of the quote of Julian of Norwich, ‘all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’.

Frances Webb