Hastings and Gisborne Combined Choral Societies
Directed by Joseph Christensen
Soloists Catherine Macdonald, soprano, and Gavin Maclean, baritone
Organist Gary Bowler
St Matthew's Church, Hastings, Sunday, May 15
Reviewed by Peter Williams
The title German Requiem sets this work apart from the more commonly performed Latin Requiem, with its traditional five sections following the Roman liturgical rite.
The text of this Requiem is serious, and Brahms was a serious composer whose music is complex and vividly expressive, making full use of the rich vocabulary of the ever-expanding music language of the late Romantic period composers.
The two choirs had obviously worked assiduously in their months of separate rehearsals with their individual conductors and in the combined practices leading up to the performance in Gisborne two weeks ago and this Hastings presentation.
There were numerous fine moments in this performance as Joseph Christensen drew the best from the singers under his control - the strong contrast in dynamics and tempi in the expansive second chorus, Behold all flesh, the interweaving with the baritone solo parts in the third section Lord, let me know mine end and with the soprano solo in the fifth section Ye now have sorrow, a real feeling of serenity in the opening of How lovely are thy dwellings fair and the impressive sense of climax achieved in the final movement, Blessed are the dead.
The informative printed programme included the text of the Requiem, but such is the complexity of the music that on occasions diction was not clear and there were some uncertain moments in pitch, especially on some top notes and in the balance of the four sections of the choir.
Baritone Gavin Maclean and soprano Catherine Macdonald showed a clear understanding of the music in confident and expressive performances. Their singing was always musically shaped, so enhancing the choir's performance.
The organ accompaniment places considerable demands on the player with its complex modulations and ever-changing dynamic contrasts. Gary Bowler gave strong support to all the singers and it was an excellent idea to include timpani with the organ to strengthen and enrich the bass line.
Amanda Maclean added much to the performance with her playing, even though at times the timpani sound was a little too dominant.