The Song Company’s everlasting joy

by | Feb 23, 2022 | Ambassador thoughts

The Song Company | Ein Deutsches Requiem

February 19, 2022, City Recital Hall, Sydney 

The Song Company’s first MainStage performance of the year was a remarkable and moving event. It was remarkable in that it featured the new concept of The Song Co Apprentices, mentored by the brilliant members of The Song Company, who formed the core of the choir and also included students from the Conservatorium High School. This very youthful choir was accompanied by the eminent Gerard Willems and Francis Greep on two grand pianos. It was moving due to the music, its content and context, and, above all, the exquisite performance. The setting of The City Recital Hall was perfect, with beautiful lighting setting off the performers and reflecting a warm ambiance.

The concert opened with the combined choirs singing Sancta Deus by Thomas Tallis and Tenebrae factae sunt by Marc’Antonio Ingegneri. Antony Pitts’ sensitive conducting brought out the magic of their interweaving voices with their superb intonation in these a cappella pieces of 16th century polyphonic music. The liturgical content dealing with death, plus the polyphonic structure, foreshadowed what was to come after Interval with Brahm’s Ein Deutsches Requiem (the Tenebrae factae sunt by Marc’Antonio Ingegneri was included in Brahms’ own music library).

Antony Pitts then introduced the pianists: special guest, Gerard Willems and Francis Greep, who is also general manager and associate artistic director of The Song Company. They played Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, specifically written for two pianos in 1873. It was written at the same time as the orchestral version and directly reflects his orchestration. Gerard Willems and Francis Greep played this with gusto and virtuosity, highlighting each pianist’s expertise. They were to do so again in the piano accompaniment to Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, echoing its first London performance in 1871. This arrangement enabled the choristers to shine, whereas a full orchestra performance may have distracted from such an exquisite choir.

After Interval, we waited with anticipation, while Antony Pitts got the choirs’ absolute attention. The two pianos gradually, soothingly, whispered into audibility. The choirs did likewise…”Selig sind…die da Leid tragen” (“Blessed are they that mourn”) with the sibilant alliteration of the german words reflecting the feeling of whispering. The sopranos’ pure, high notes remained restrained as the volume and passion increased.

This first movement quotes the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Although an agnostic himself, Brahms had carefully researched and chosen suitable passages from the Lutheran Bible. This work is sacred rather than liturgical. Brahms even mentioned changing the title to “A Human Requiem”. The overall feeling of this work is one of being comforted in sorrow with the promise of everlasting joy in the afterlife.

The second movement opened with a sonorous funeral march, the low voices singing the lines “Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras” (“All Flesh is as Grass”) with wistful overtones. When the singing increased in volume, it became almost brutal in its urgency. This was counterbalanced by the lighter female voices singing “So seid nur geduldig, lieben Brüder” (“Therefore be patient, dear brothers”). The movement continued with an almost harrowing fugue of victory and joy, and ended with soothing notes.

Christopher Richardson sang a beautiful solo in the third movement, with soft interjections from the choir, which became more urgent with the intensity of the message, ending in another energetic contrapuntal fugue. This was followed by the popular “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” (“How lovely are Your dwelling places”), which was lyrically sung with lilting rhythms, followed by uplifting proclamations of joy.

The beautiful, keening soprano voice of Amy Moore opened the fifth movement, which unfolded into a warm and gentle reassurance, accompanied by the choir. Brahms added this movement after the premiere of the six movement version in Bremen Cathedral on Good Friday 1868. It blends perfectly with the rest of the work, although it was written seven years after the first three movements were conceived.

Then came the dazzling 6th movement, which begins as an uneasy expression of impermanence and climaxes with “Tod, wo its dein Stachel” (“Death where is the Sting”), followed by a joyful fugue “Herr du bist würdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre und Kraft” (“Lord, You are worthy to receive glory, honour and power”).

The beautiful last movement “Selig sind die Toten” (“Blessed are the dead”) seemed almost a bookend to the opening. After many seconds of silent reverie, the audience burst into cheers and enthusiastic applause. Remarkable and moving indeed!

Artists

Amy Moore – soprano

Chloe Lankshear – soprano

Janine Harris – alto

Hannah Fraser – alto

Dan Walker – tenor

Ethan Taylor – tenor

Jack Stephens – bass

Christopher Richardson – bass

Francis Greep – associate artistic director, piano

Gerard Willems – piano

The Song Co Apprentices

The Song Co Chorale  – including students from the Conservatorium High School

 

Antony Pitts – artistic director, conductor

Photo credit: Christopher Hayles Photography

Sketches by Heidi Hereth

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