Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished"). The Barbican Centre is built over the remains of a much older London, which still exists in hidden corners. During the week, the metropolis is manic, but on a Sunday night, a quiet calm descends, and once more you can feel the presence of the past amid the high tech towers and traffic. Under the Barbican Hall itself was Three Herring Court, where my companion's ancestors lived in extreme poverty. An atmospheric way in which to experience Brahms German Requiem, which commemorates the endurance of the human spirit across boundaries of time and place. Not for nothing did Brahms blend together verses from the Old and New Testaments, evidence of an upbringing steeped in North German Lutheran tradition, even though he rejected conventional piety, and lived much of his life in staunchly Catholic Vienna. .
The voices of the London Symphony Chorus rose beautifully from the hushed opening chords. "Selig sind, die da Lied tragen", for those who go forth weeping bearing precious seed will return "Mit Freuden und bringen ihre Garben". Death is a not an end, but a process. With Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director of the LSO, Londoners get another advantage : Simon Halsey, Rattle's choral counterpart through the years at Birmingham and in Berlin. The LSO Chorus sounded luminous, voices carefully blended. If anything, the LSO Chorus sounded even richer in the second movement Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras though this brought the orchestra to the fore. The "march" theme was particularly well defined, with a good sense of surge underlying the solemn, deliberate pace, so when the lyrical motif appeared, it suggested light and hope. The fanfare at the end of the movement was understated but confident.
Simon Keenlyside sang the baritone part, which he has taken many times before. Experience showed. Brahms quotes Psalm 9 (verses 4 to 7), where a man contemplates his fate : humility is of the essence, surrounded as he is by the tumult in the orchestra. Yet the assured, unforced timbre of Keenlyside's singing highlighted the inner strength that comes from faith, whatever the source of that faith. When the chorus joined in, the protagonist was no longer alone, in every sense. Perhaps for this reason the song with soprano (Julia Kleiter) Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit was added, for it is a moment of illumination, before the mood turns sombre yet again. The solemn processional of the second movement echoes in the sixth. Forceful chords from the orchestra, and a blazing fanfare of brass, strings and percussion, and the chorus in full swell , for momentous changes are to come. The trumpets rang out, as in the Book of Revelation, a trumpet will herald the End of Time, when the dead of past ages will be raised to life again. Keenlyside's voice rang out "Wir werden verwandelt werden" and the chorus entered, forcefully "Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg!" A thunderous finale, after which it took some moments to recover.
Fabio Luisi and the London Symphony Orchestra were impressive, and their Schubert Symphony no 8 was excellent, well poised and stylish. But the full honours went to the London Symphony Chorus, for Brahms's German Requiem is one of the high points in the choral repertoire. "Selig sind die Toten.....daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit". Rich, fulsome playing from the LSO, luminous singing from the LSO Chorus. The German Requiem concluded in transcendance.
Please also see : Brahms exults ! Vier ernste Lieder and other songs : Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach
and Hanns Eisler Deutsches Sinfonie: an anti fascist cantata
This review will also appear in Opera Today