“I wrote it for all humanity” said Brahms of his German Requiem, refuting the notion that he had joined the pan-German nationalist movement exemplified by Bismark and Wagner. Indeed, he might have called it, with some justification, “A Protestant Requiem” since it is based on texts from the Lutheran bible, rather than the Latin texts favoured by the Catholic Church.

This wonderful work received a truly glorious performance from HCS, the Chameleon Arts Orchestra, and maestro Derek Harrison. The soloists, Claire Seaton (soprano) and Gareth Brynmor John (baritone) were on top form and sang with power and feeling in their respective parts. The choir’s singing was first class, and their German pronunciation, intensively rehearsed, was immaculate and distinct. The problems of balance sometimes occurring in this spacious church were nowhere apparent. Placing the tenors immediately behind the orchestra instead of high in the rafters enabled them to be heard more clearly, and Derek Harrison’s control of the orchestra ensured that they never overpowered the singers, even in the great climaxes. The quiet conclusion of the piece was splendid, a gradual dying away which brought the evening to a peaceful close.

The Requiem performance was complemented by an exhibition of pictures from Hertford Arts Society illustrating various themes from the text. These were colourful and interesting concepts, and added to the enjoyment of the evening.

The concert opened as it closed, with Brahms, in more boisterous mood, in the Academic Festival Overture. This potpourri of student songs, arranged with truly Brahmsian skill, got things off to a rousing start, with the chorus joining in the concluding Gaudeamus Igitur, not Brahms’s idea, but a good one nonetheless. Schubert’s brief but beautiful Stabat Mater followed, sung with taste and feeling, and the first half closed with Mozart’s  Masonic Funeral Music, a piece not composed for an actual funeral, but to accompany a Masonic ceremony. A short work, lasting about four minutes, it nevertheless runs the gamut of emotions, concluding with a triumphant major-key resolution.

A glorious evening of beautiful music.

Gordon Williams

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