The work which made Brahms’ name, A German Requiem was initially designed to be played with four hands on one instrument; as a piano duet. Assembled by Brahms from Martin Luther’s German translation of the bible, A German Requiem focuses on the biblical passages which reflected Brahms’ personal views on death and spirituality. Wholly inappropriate for funeral mass at the time due to Brahms’ decision to shun the Latin vernacular in favour of German, the requiem represented Brahms’ desire to speak to a wider audience, arguing that Latin was “a dead language, the solemnity of which could affect but a few”.
In his opening speech, choral conductor Simon Halsey explained his intention to emphasise the themes of joy and consolation in Brahms’ famous composition, as opposed to suffering and death.
As we settled into our seats in the City Recital Hall, I was immediately hit by the pungent smell of cologne from the gentleman next to me. Intimacy is a funny thing – it allows for clarity of meaning and emotional openness, however, it can leave one hyper aware of those in one’s vicinity.
As soprano Emma Pearson launched into ‘Wie Melodien zeiht es mir’ accompanied by Marlowe Fitzpatrick, Halsey’s interpretation of Brahms’ compositions overcame even the most acrid of scents. Pearson’s recreation of ‘Wiegenlied’, meaning Lullaby, was sweet and loving, whilst baritone Sam Roberts-Smith’s striking yet slightly ominous presence made ‘Verzagen’ (Despair) and ‘Mondnacht’ (Moonlight Night) highlights of the night. Both soloists employed a cleanness of expression in their diction which lent the performance an easy, conversational tone.
During intermission, my friend and I almost simultaneously remarked to each other that we were likely the youngest people there. It’s a shame, as our self-aware morbid millennial generation would enjoy the work of a composer who once joked to his friends that he was happiest when he could sing “my joy is in the grave.”
The tone of tonight’s performance of A German Requiem took on a more hopeful tenor than Brahms’ wit, with Halsey indeed focusing on the consolation and comfort for the living in the face of loss present in Brahms’ initial composition. Halsey’s conduction was a delight, leading over a hundred voices of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in Brahms’ colourful arrangement, seamlessly juxtaposing dramatic climaxes with moments of quiet emotion.
An Intimate Evening with Brahms was almost like a hushed conversation among friends, offering solace and consolation.
Check out the rest of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ 2019 season here: https://sydneyphilharmonia.com.au/concerts/2019-season/