Past Concerts

Brahms Requiem

Sunday 24 April 2016, 19:30
St Dunstan's Church

As the opening concert in the 2016 Mayfield Festival, Mayfield Festival Choir was conducted by Jeremy Summerly with the London Primavera led by Paul Manley, Andrew Benians (Organ), Eloise Irving (Soprano), Tristan Hambleton (Baritone).

  • W A Mozart: Exsultate Jubilate K165
  • G F Handel: Organ Concerto in F Major Op 4.
  • J Brahms: Ein Deutches Requiem

Exsultate, jubilate was written when Mozart was just seventeen and it fizzes with teenage energy; it is also some of the most challenging and virtuosic vocal writing of the Classical Era. Ostensibly this is a motet for Soprano (originally Castrato) and orchestra, which is designed to be heard in a church service. Certainly the place of Exsultate, jubilate is inside a church, but it is more of a concert aria than a liturgical one. And while there isn’t anything irreligious about the piece, it does seem to glorify the soloist more than it does the liturgy.

By contrast, Handel’s organ concertos are rather religious affairs, but always with a twinkle in the eye. The F major Concerto was designed to be played during the interval at performances of oratorios at the Covent Garden Theatre in London. History now judges Handel’s organ concertos not as wallpaper music but as major contributions to the genre, albeit accessible ones. Handel was that most welcome of musicians – an intensely sophisticated composer who knew how to entertain as well as how to impress.

Brahms said of A German Requiem: ‘I could easily dispense with the word ‘German’ and replace it with the word ‘human’’. Brahms also said that his intention was to write ‘a compassionate Requiem to comfort the living’. Indeed, the central Soprano movement arose as an act of self-comfort for Brahms, since it was written to augment the completed work and was composed as a direct response to the death of Brahms’ own mother. Tragically, Brahms arrived at his mother’s deathbed just too late to say goodbye to her. Brahms’ Requiem isn’t Catholic church music, it is Protestant concert music. It blurs the boundaries between belief and atheism, and between misery and optimism. And it is unquestionably Brahms’ masterpiece.

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