Nottingham Festival Chorus
February 1 2020
Albert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
The Nottingham Festival Chorus brings passionate humanity to Brahms’ Requiem
We all have our favourite David and Goliath stories in which which the little guy wins against the odds through determination and passionate commitment. Well, there’s something of the David about the Nottingham Festival Chorus. Armed only with scores, rehearsal CDs and a weekend course they not only take on the giants of the musical world but emerge unscathed and often triumphant from the encounters.
On Saturday they sang Brahms’ German Requiem, a majestic, moving, complex work and one that is unusual amongst Requiems. It’s a long way from the Latin Mass for the dead. Instead Brahms presents a cunning selection of texts from the Lutheran bible which places the emphasis firmly on comfort for the bereaved rather than immortality for the departed. Yes, there are grand fugues and a spine-tingling funeral march but essentially it’s an intimate piece whose effect depends on very precise attention to things like the composer’s instructions about phrasing and dynamics. There needs to be plenty of light and shade as well as expressive shaping of ideas and careful handling of the way climaxes are achieved.
In conductor Angela Kay’s very experienced hands this was achieved remarkably well. There were admittedly a few moments when she had to work hard to bring her nearly 200 singers into line, but generally ensemble was tight. Amongst the highlights: the unison conviction of the second movement in which the chorus sang that all flesh is grass; the bass soloist’s prayer at the start of the third movement; the great beauty of ‘How lovely are Thy dwellings’ with its lovely soprano solo and promise of comfort; the splendid depiction of the last trumpet in the sixth movement.
There was impressive playing from the Nottingham Concert Orchestra too and the Festival Chorus was blessed in its two soloists. Lizzie Humphries brought purity and a sort of wide-eyed innocence to the soprano role, reaching into the spiritual core of the music. [She had also been the joyfully agile performer of Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate which preceded the Requiem]. Alex Jones was the impressive bass soloist, his tone dark, firmly focused and arrestingly authoritative.
Brahms himself said of his Requiem: ‘I confess I would gladly omit ‘German’ and simply put ‘Human’ in its place. The Nottingham Festival Chorus clearly knew what he meant.
Nottingham Festival Chorus
Nottingham Concert Orchestra
Lizzie Humphries, soprano
Alex Jones, bass
Angela Kay, conductor