The St George’s Cathedral Consort gave an unsettling performance of Brahms’ German Requiem on Friday night; mostly I think it was intentional.
Brahms completed the Requiem in 1868 after the death of his mother. He constructed the text from the German bible rather than the Catholic mass and the minor tonality, fugal writing and densely chromatic harmonies give the work a luxurious Romantic bleakness. Conductor Joseph Nolan brought to this a restless intensity with quick tempos and only brief pauses between movements.

The choir has a prominent role in the Requiem, involved in every movement with brief appearances from a soprano (Sara Macliver singing with amber warmth) and baritone (a lyrical Andrew Foote). The Consort was augmented to 26 singers plus 17 trebles and produced an exciting, sometimes strident sound. The ensemble’s trademark dramatic contrast ranged from hushed mourning to a spitting accusatory “Death where is thy sting?” The sense of ensemble wasn’t always coherent but the trade-off was an impassioned resonant intensity.
Brahms’s piano duet arrangement was used to accompany the singers and while it lacks the lushness of Brahms’ orchestration the assiduous Mark Coughlan and Caroline Badnall played with thunderous volume at times. Nolan maintained the momentum even in the final movement so that the closing bars had a sense of resignation rather than peace.

The Rhapsody for alto and male choir delivered far more balm. Brahms’ favourite voice was the alto and Fiona Campbell demonstrated why with her rich depth and capacity for soaring radiance. With smooth leaps and controlled power she shaped an arresting opening and pleading middle section. As the tonality changed to major the male choir added their glowing harmonies for a comforting finale. Coughlan accompanied attentively from piano although he could have been more prominent to match Campbell’s volume.
This review copyright The West Australian 2015.