Saffron Walden Choral Society: Saffron Hall 17 November 2018
Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem and music by Lili Boulanger and George Butterworth
The centenary of the end of World War I was marked in this imaginative, stimulating programme.
Johannes Brahms (1833-97) completed Ein Deutsches Requiem in his early 30s and it contains some of his most ambitious music. The chorus is centre stage throughout. The 80+ voices of SWCS, singing in German, displayed remarkable fortitude and stamina. Some attractively hushed singing was well controlled, but the more challenging passages affected tone and intonation. Too often the singers were hampered by stolid tempi adopted by the conductor, Colin Durrant (standing in for SWCS Music Director, Janet Wheeler). The soprano, Elizabeth Roberts, rose above the choir, but the technical demands of the role were not fully overcome. The star of the show was bass-baritone, James Newby, whose commitment and dark-hued vocal timbre were utterly compelling. A young man to watch.
The concert began with two works by fledgling composers whose lives were cruelly cut short: George Butterworth on the battlefield in 1916 and Lili Boulanger from Crohn’s disease in 1918. Her rarely-heard piece, Pour les Funerailles d’un Soldat (written when she was 19), is a haunting threnody: a soldier has fallen, the priest comes forward, a prayer for the dead is sung. Steady drumbeats accompany the chorus and soloist (James Newby) in mournful procession. At the conclusion of the piece, the pin-drop stillness in the audience attested to the powerful performance. Butterworth’s orchestral gem, Rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad, received a respectful, careful account from the Chameleon Arts Ensemble. The English pastoral was eloquently painted, but thereafter the piece deserved a freer, more rhapsodic approach.