Brahms’ German Requiem

Leeds Minster

The tradition of a Good Friday concert of devotional music at this great city church has been maintained with distinction for well over a century. Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Handel’s Messiah, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius have all taken their turns in the past decade.

This year’s interesting choice of programme was devoted to Johannes Brahms; the character of his German Requiem is closer to a choral symphony than an oratorio. Appropriately, Simon Lindley’s powerfully structured reading of this great work favours fast tempi and strong dynamic contrasts.

This approach is highly effective, especially with such agile and meticulously tuned vocal forces as the St Peter’s Singers of Leeds – forty superbly blended voices who illuminated every line of the Lutheran text.

The National Festival Orchestra, led by Sally Robinson, responded to Dr Lindley’s conducting with playing of great conviction and expression, underpinned by the famous organ of Leeds Minster played by David Houlder.

Soprano soloist Kristina James sung Ye Now Have Sorrow with the ethereal beauty of a lark; baritone soloist Quentin Brown invested his lines with gravitas and humanity. Two early Brahms sacred songs opened the programme: Geistliches Lied, an ingenious double canon for four-part chorus, and the unaccompanied motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben.

Both were given performances of exemplary balance by Dr Lindley and his St Peter’s Singers. the National Festival Orchestra and men’s voices accompanied soloist Lucy Appleyard in the rarely performed Alto Rhapsody, an intensely personal outpouring of grief on the loss of Brahms’ mother, here movingly sung with plangent tone and dark-hued colouring of the solo line.

Geoffrey Mogridge