Lichfield Cathedral Chorus
Lichfield Cathedral Chorus

Lichfield Cathedral Chorus performed Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem in an unusual version for piano duet.

Brahms prepared this version, probably for private performances when a full orchestra was unavailable, from his score for the complete work.

The two pianists for this concert, Libby Burgess and Gavin Roberts, opened the concert sonorously on the cathedral’s beautiful Bechstein piano, and played sensitively or dramatically as needed throughout.

This version of the Requiem leaves the chorus nowhere to hide – not that they needed it, as their diction of the German text was clear throughout and their intonation only occasionally drifted slightly when movements or passages ended softly. 

The first movement was taken at a measured speed that seemed appropriate to the text and was beautifully shaped. The choir presented the text of sorrow with suitable feeling. 

The heaviness of the material of the second movement was conveyed dramatically with appropriate contrasts of loud and soft passages. The second part was portrayed with a delightful change of tempo.

The third movement opened with a great declaration by the baritone soloist Damian Thantrey, whose beautiful voice carried clearly and led into an exciting, but well-balanced duet with the choir about the failings of human beings.

As they considered their mortal end, the choir conveyed their sense of anguish, before celebrating the lot of the souls of the righteous in a rumbustious, rock-solid fashion.

After a brief pause, they moved on to celebrate lyrically the lovely dwellings of the fourth movement.

In the beginning, the choir sounded as though they were taking a stroll through a woodland glade, but the speed and intensity picked up. Like several of the movements it was beautifully shaped to fit the text.    

The fifth movement, a late addition to Brahms’ initial version of the Requiem, showcased the delicately clear voice of soprano soloist, Caroline Halls. Her beautiful sense of line and clear diction lit up the movement, carefully accompanied by the chorus, and provided a breath of lightness to the rest of the work. 

My notes say ‘with cat-like tread’ as the choir and piano tip-toed purposefully into the sixth movement, unravelling the mystery of life everlasting, a movement that took on greater urgency when Damian Thantrey sounded the last trumpet.

As death got its comeuppance, the piano soloists were superb and the choir sounded as though they were mocking death and the grave.

The seventh movement was delicately and fittingly done, although I wish the men had been more fervent in the opening when replying to the women.

Overall, a really enjoyable performance of an unusual but authentic version of Brahms’ Requiem on which Ben Lamb, the chorus and soloists are to be congratulated.

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