On Sunday 9th December the Choir gave the final major concert of its sixtieth anniversary year with a Great Hall performance of Brahms’s masterpiece, Ein deutsches Requiem. In contrast with the works presented at the Choir’s two earlier Great Hall concerts this year, Mendelssohn’s Paulus and sacred music by Schubert, the Choir had some familiarity with Brahms’s masterpiece, having performed it as recently as December 2005. On this occasion, however, Christopher Bowen did not use Brahms’s own orchestral score but chose a smaller scoring, dating from 2010, by the German musician, Joachim Linckelmann. Arguing that the original score, with its heavy brass and woodwind, tends to obscure the fine detail of the choral writing, Linckelmann reduces Brahms’s 19 wind players to five – one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. The acoustic benefits of these reduced forces in this chamber version became very clear in performance.
As usual, we were very well served by our orchestral players, especially the wind group, who deserve individual mentions, as their playing was more than usually exposed: Leah Lock (flute), Duncan Thorpe (oboe), Deborah de Graaff (clarinet), John Cran (bassoon) and Graham Nichols (horn). John Cran, an octogenarian, was fighting illness during rehearsal and performance but went about his work with his usual professionalism and it was very fitting that Christopher Bowen handed John his bouquet at the end of the performance.
Two young soloists appeared with us: Amy Corkery (soprano), who has sung with us on several occasions and, on this occasion, had performed at the Opera House with Sydney Philharmonia earlier in the day, having made her first appearance with the SSO in the previous week, and Byron Watson (baritone), who was making his Grads debut. Both sang excellently and made an important contribution to what turned out to be a successful concert, given to a full house.
Our Patron, Professor Bashir, the Governor of NSW and Chancellor of the University, was in the audience, thus making it a hat-trick for her of attendances at the Choir’s Great Hall concerts in our 60th anniversary year. During the first half of the concert, President, Evelyne de Clercq, took the opportunity of Professor Bashir’s presence to make a very well-deserved and well-received presentation of a Patron’s Award to former President, Catherine Crittenden, for her many services to the Choir.
Another notable member of the audience was the music-loving former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, who counts as his favourite recording Otto Klemperer’s performance of Ein deutsches Requiem, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Mr Keating’s comments on our performance should be seen against that high standard. He found our performance to be excellent, “twice as good as I expected.” He believed that the scaled-down orchestration had done the work’s choral writing a service and enjoyed the Choir’s singing and Christopher Bowen’s interpretation. Like others in the audience, he was particularly impressed by Amy Corkery’s singing.
From within the Choir, it was much easier than in 2005 to hear the detail of other choral parts, which enabled us to manage the drama and frenzy of the Sixth Movement (Death, where is thy sting etc) more comfortably than was the case in 2005. This time, we were able to enter the otherworldly space of Brahms’s final movement (Selig sind die Toten), without the accompaniment of fireworks from nearby Victoria Park.
For choristers and audience alike, this performance of Ein deutsches Requiem, was an inspiring event. It made a fitting and successful musical conclusion to our important anniversary year.
In the first half of the concert, the Chamber Choir performed a short program of unaccompanied works: by Brahms himself, Heinrich Schuetz, whose music Brahms loved and studied, and Max Reger, on whom Brahms was an important influence. Special thanks are due to Ros Moxham for her characteristically skilful and conscientious preparation of the Chamber Choir for these works.