Brahms Nanie and Ein Deutsches Requiem
2nd May 2015 St Marys church, Aylesbury
Review by: David Berdinner
For its post-Easter concert, Aylesbury Choral Society presented two works by Brahms; the little-performed Nanie and the well-known German Requiem. Both deal with the subject of Death but the music is far from morbid, even if, typically of Brahms, the textures are often quite dense.
The Choir was in fine form; in fact it seemed to have gained some sopranos, and their strength on high notes was a particular feature of this concert. The new conductor, Jeff Stewart, has obviously established a rapport with the choir and their confidence is a tribute to the work he has done in a short time.
Nanie, dedicated to the memory of one of Brahms’ friends, received a well-shaped performance, accompanied by Colin Spinks on the resident Kawai piano.
For the Requiem, the choir achieved a wide dynamic range from the quiet opening “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord” to the robust fugues “The Souls of the Righteous are in God’s Hands” and “Thou art Worthy O Lord”. The tenors, despite being few in number, did well in matching the sopranos in soaring melodic lines. Both soloists (Paula Sides: Soprano and Eddie Wade: Baritone) provided effective contrast to the choir.
The Requiem was undoubtedly intended to be accompanied by an orchestra; the programme notes, indeed, refer to various orchestral instruments. In 1868 when Brahms published the Requiem, he had still not written the Haydn Variations for orchestra (which does also exist in a fine two-piano version) nor his First Symphony. He must have produced a two-piano accompaniment as a “budget” version and it has only recently become fashionable to do this. In this concert a second smaller piano was hired but, with its lid open pointing to the choir, it was difficult for the audience to hear the guest pianist, Elspeth Wyllie. Perhaps removing the lids from both pianos would have helped and the dynamic range in the accompaniment would have been greater. Certainly with the present strength of the choir, it could have borne far more volume from the pianos in “Death Where is Thy Sting?” where Brahms is at his most dramatic.