Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem

by Malcolm Tapscott (The Canberra Times, Wednesday 19th May 1999)

Thrilling moments in Brahms requiem

Tobias Foskett conducted the ANU Choral Society (SCUNA) in this performance of Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) by Johannes Brahms. The vocal soloists were soprano Lorina Gore and Bass-Baritone Bryan Dowling.

Despite the implications of the title, the work is neither liturgical nor uniquely German. The text is drawn from the Bible and forms an address to those who mourn and who are left after the dead have departed. It opens with words from the Beatitudes: "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort". Verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 126 follow, beginning with "They shall sow in tears and reap in joy".

Most of the work is for choir alone, with just three of the seven movement requiring the soloists. Bryan Dowling sang in both the third movement, where a bass solo is stipulated and in the sixth movement, where a baritone voice is required. Dowling was a suitable choice here because of his wide range and appropriate vocal colour. His voice was bright and penetrating in the upper register and warm and sonorous in the middle and lower registers. It had no trouble filling the Llewellyn Hall and competing with the large orchestra. Lorina Gore was the soprano soloist in the fifth movement. This is a tribute to the composer's own mother, who had died three years before its composition. The word central to the movement are "Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth". Gore projected a clear, steady line in a part that maintains the focus on the soloist throughout the movement.

There were some thrilling moments of vocal singing from SCUNA, especially in the central, third movement. It is refreshing to hear mostly young or youthful voices tackle a large-scale work like this and commit themselves to its optimum realisation. The orchestra was faced with both a supportive role and a soloistic role. These it negotiated skilfully, especially the oftentimes difficult tuning in the woodwinds. The trombones and other brass are used to effect in the sixth and penultimate movement, where "Posaune" (trombone) was translated as "trumpet".