sun 22/04/2018

Brahms: A German Requiem, ENO Chorus, Wigglesworth, St George's Hanover Square | reviews, news & interviews

Brahms: A German Requiem, ENO Chorus, Wigglesworth, St George's Hanover Square

Brahms: A German Requiem, ENO Chorus, Wigglesworth, St George's Hanover Square

Interiority as well as intensity from the ENO Chorus in a classic work

The ENO Chorus with their Olivier Award

There aren’t many opera choruses I’d want to hear singing Brahms’ Requiem, and still fewer I’d rush to hear. But the Olivier Award-winning ENO chorus is a different beast altogether – as responsive and flexible of tone as it is skilled with an all-out musical punch – and more than capable of finding the interiority as well as the intensity in this choral classic.

Singing the English translation in the composer’s own arrangement for chorus, soloists and piano-duet, the ENO choristers showed their full dramatic range in a performance that all but blew the doors off St George’s Hanover Square, such was the force of its conviction. (Take note, audiences for future performances in Notting Hill and Waterloo, and sit well back.)

There was more than music on display last night

Speeds under Mark Wigglesworth are so fast that the whole work comes in at under an hour, but thanks to some detailed attention to phrasing and articulation that’s never less than precise, there’s no sense of rush except where he intends it. He certainly raises an exhilarating sweat in the “Worthy art Thou” fugue – nothing staid or expansive here – barely letting up even after the movement blows itself beyond climax, and the earlier “But the righteous souls” is no less swift. Stripped of the weight of a full orchestra, it’s as though the music has cut its anchor, and allows itself to be tossed freely about in the wind and waves of Brahms’ counterpoint.

Playing a long game of the second movement (“Behold all flesh is as the grass”), Wigglesworth (pictured right) keeps his forces on a tight rein, holding back volume until the eventual release comes with a rush of emotional adrenalin all the more potent for disappearing almost as soon as it is delivered. The whole arc of the work is beautifully calibrated here, delivering us from quietest, barely-breathed beginnings to the certainty and warmth of the soprano opening to the final movement “Blessed are the dead”, supported with all the delicacy of the missing strings by pianists Kate Golla and Chris Hopkins.

It’s lovely to see a current Harewood Artist (soprano Eleanor Dennis, pictured left) and a former Harewood Artist (baritone Benedict Nelson) as soloists, Dennis crowning the exquisite “Ye now are sorrowful” with full tone and emotional generosity, and Nelson finding an almost English-song intimacy to his contributions.

But of course there was more than music on display last night. To see a chorus under threat singing with such wholehearted intensity and conviction for recently departed music director Mark Wigglesworth was powerful, and not a little bit moving. Surely this, if nothing else, must persuade the writers of certain wrongheaded editorials that the conductor’s departure was anything but the gesture of abandonment and personal pique that they have painted it. No one witnessing the camaraderie and passion of this performance could doubt the devotion of conductor to chorus or chorus to conductor. ENO may have let Wigglesworth slip through their fingers, but there’s still time for them to recognise the outstanding asset they still have in their chorus.

@AlexaCoghlan

To see a chorus under threat singing with such wholehearted intensity and conviction for recently departed music director Mark Wigglesworth was powerful

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

Well declared, Alexandra, about those shameful editorials. Had the writers asked ANYONE in the ENO Chorus what they thought about their Music Director - and it's love all round - they wouldn't have written the speculative nonsense they did. Bad journalism.

Can't wait to hear this at the last performance.

"all but blew the doors off St George’s Hanover Square, such was the force of its conviction. (Take note, audiences for future performances in Notting Hill and Waterloo, and sit well back.)"  To me, at the Notting Hill performance, seeing these things as positives would be at the extreme end of charitable.  

just back from the gloriously sung and played Brahms. My ears and the church doors stayed on but my heart soared to hear and see such splendid professionalism. What a blast! Hmmm, I thought, this close-knit gang should go it alone a lot more. Wonderful

.

Totally agree with both Mary and Alexandra (I, too, caught this last performance). And such clarity in the (English) words, no doubt because the phrasing was so shaped. Three cheers for the enterprise of chorus, music staff and Wigglesworth for putting on these concerts. May it be an annual occurrence even when the ENO's greatest Music Director is no longer officially in the post.

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