Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem, 30th March 2019

Thrilling debut for Orpheus’s new director of music

Seldom will a St Catherine’s, Ventnor audience have experienced a performance of such dynamic variety, or one so certain in its changes of mood and time as did the one on Saturday night for a thrilling performance of Brahms’ Requiem.

This was the first outing with the choir for its new conductor, Charles Paterson, and on this evidence the choir have picked a real winner. The choir sang with discipline and alert concentration, but also with joy, full-blooded joy, and how well they responded to the promptings of their new leader.

Not only can he conduct, but also the programme had him explaining lucidly the reasons why the choir chose to sing the work in German, and chose to use a piano played by four hands as the accompaniment rather than an orchestra. And both choices were amply justified. The pianists, Merryl Spong and Judith Flint, enjoyed every felicity of the score, and their account brimmed over with wit and musicality. As for the German text, that was justified absolutely by the baritone soloist, Martin Johnson, whose words sparkled with their clarity and thrilled with their drama. Miranda Johnson, the soprano soloist, enjoyed to the full her movement Ihr hat nun Traurigkeit. The fact that both soloists also sang as part of the choir added greatly to the pleasure of the audience.

But it was the choir’s evening. Freude is a word inextricably associated with Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and the Hymn of Joy. Brahms would have loved the choir helping him to match the passion and energy and mania of Beethoven. They did with high fortissimo chords pinning the audience to the back wall, tight syncopations, a muscular fugue and then sudden real pianissimos forcing the audience to sit back up and listen.

Selig, blessed, is another crucial word in the piece, which starts and finishes with selig. This is a piece about bringing comfort to the mourners, Brahms himself and Clara Schumann. We too felt comforted and blessed. A great European masterpiece, taken to the hearts of generations of the British, provided comfort and reassurance to the needy.