We can think of Brahms German Requiem both as an expression of private grief and as a public statement of faith in eternal life. It is indeed a requiem for our time, appealing to the ambiguous spirituality of these days, and not specifically rooted in the traditional Latin form.
Anyway, there is no question that this beautiful performance poured comfort into our fake-news-infested world. To quote a respected local amateur conductor: “Stuff happens. But there is always Brahms.”
This Brahms, with the BSO and the BSC directed by David Hill in Poole Lighthouse and broadcast on BBC Radio 3, was indeed a powerful antidote to “stuff” happening. Gavin Carr’s meticulous preparation of the Chorus made a deep impression from the gentle opening, which stole magically upon our ears, to the powerful surges of harmony which animated Section 6 Denn wir haben.
Two outstanding soloists took their places in the ensemble: the gorgeously soaring soprano Emma Bell (a late replacement) was impressively consoling in Section 5, while Gareth Brynmor John’s opulent baritone brought authority to his Sections.
Mr Hill’s experienced and stylish baton kept a sense of forward movement throughout the performance while avoiding any hint of rushing along. Above all, the finely-judged ending suggested Brahms himself reaching out to assure us all will be well, no matter how much “stuff” hits us this winter.
Elgar did not write enough songs. In his Sea Pictures he is able to convey ideas and feelings in relatively short spaces through miraculous orchestration and inspired writing for the mezzo-soprano voice. Before the Brahms, Jennifer Johnston, such an understanding Elgarian, proved the power and range of this cycle. Her breath control allowed her to rise from hushed intensity to powerful command, while always in sympathy with the orchestra, the whole controlled with understanding by Mr Hill.