Brahms German Requiem, BSO at Poole Lighthouse

revshalseyMozart: Exultate Jubilate K165
Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem op. 45

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amin Merchant
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus
Simon Halsey conductor
Sarah Tynan soprano
David Soar baritone

AS a choir trainer, Simon Halsey has in recent years carried all before him. Principal Conductor of Berlin Radio Choir from 2001 to 2015, he now leads both the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and and the London Symphony Chorus, as well as being artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic Youth Choral Programme and the director of the BBC Proms Youth Choir. So expectations were sky high for this enticingly-programmed concert.

The sixteen-year-old Mozart wrote his motet Exultate Jubilate for a castrato singer whose voice had caught his youthful fancy. Now it is almost always performed by a soprano, in this case the rising English star Sarah Tynan. Effectively a short concerto in three movements for voice and chamber orchestra, it is emotionally undemanding music of enormous charm. This made it a perfect appetiser before the profundities of the Brahms after the interval. Oboes and voice echoed one another beguilingly in the first movement, and Tynan relished the opportunities for display in the last.

The seven movements of Brahms’ German Requiem are settings of passages the composer selected from the Old and New Testaments. Unlike the liturgical Latin text set by Mozart, Berlioz and Bruckner and others before him, Brahms chose the language of the people, and his texts focus movingly on the human experience of death and grief moderated by the promise of eternal life.

The strength of Simon Halsey’s direction of the piece was his unfailing control of balance and dynamics. No section of the 100+ strong choir was allowed to dominate, and singers and orchestral players spoke with a single blended voice. In the highly-original first movement, Brahms creates a striking sound world by dispensing altogether with violins. The hushed opening ‘Selig sind…’ set the tone for a performance in which Brahms was allowed to speak clearly. He always straddles the worlds of the classical and the romantic, and in this performance his debt to Bach was foregrounded, with no hint of heaviness or over-varnished nineteenth-century sound despite the large chorus.

Halsey conducted without a score and with a beat of exemplary clarity. A highlight was the fifth movement, written on the occasion of the death of the composer’s mother. Sarah Tynan’s solo line, sung from behind the orchestra, blended beautifully with the instruments and the chorus. David Soar’s contribution in the solo baritone passages were strongly and sincerely sung.

We almost take the excellence of the BSO for granted: it was great to be reminded of the excellence of the Chorus as well.


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