Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
1:00 AM 21st November 2023

Langcliffe Singers & Settle Orchestra: Brahms - A German Requiem In Skipton

Image credit Mary Woolf
Image credit Mary Woolf
It is a testament to the power and authority of the combined forces of Langcliffe Singers and Settle Orchestra that they should persuade a confirmed Baroque enthusiast to recalibrate his compass. And you needn’t be a devotee of German Romanticism to have relished the sheer verve of Saturday evening’s performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, in the evocative space of Skipton’s Christ Church.

A collaborative venture, the strategic correspondence between the North Yorkshire-based choir and orchestra was fulfilled in seamless fashion, owing, in no small part to the curatorial skills of renowned conductor Darren Everhart, and to the ministry of energy provided by the young Colombian prodigy, Maria (Maca) Barbosa, who directed the performance with cheerful and vigorous elan.

This was a concert for all, rendered by choristers and instrumentalists whose sheer enthusiasm for Brahms’ masterwork was worn lightly throughout as they overwhelmed the audience with goodwill, and cast any technical cavil to the four winds in the emotional drama unfolding in the nave and chancel. That this gathering of, mostly, amateurs, succeeded in convincing the audience of a near-insouciant degree of professionalism is a remarkable achievement: the received effect confounded intuition, and was never less than astonishing.

The Requiem is characterised by Sturm und Drang, the fall and dramatic rise of movements whose interstitial fabric is oceanic in tone, and the heightened mood – in sequential breaths, belaboured by anguish and swallowed in ecstasy – encourages us to abandon ourselves to the emotional pull of the music. And to the extent that Brahms intended the piece to sit tangential to conventional liturgical representation, and to reflect a human-centred approach to the idea of redemption, his work is well-served by the sublime interchanges of tone, whose effect mirrors no less than the storm and stress of human emotion rather than metaphysical need.

Jessica Harper. Image credit Mary Woolf
Jessica Harper. Image credit Mary Woolf
The fulcrum of a requiem whose sound cascades up and down the registers is the Sixth movement. Its volcanic intensity is the apex in a range of undulant but seductive hills beneath the figurative cloudline, and if you were obliged to listen to Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Stadt in isolation, performed in German and with the vivacity we witnessed in Skipton, you’d have gone home emotionally drained. For this was a tour-de-force, orchestra and choir in sync entire, as the sonic blast built by climactic accretion, from the undertow of the lower musical registers to the higher plain of string and woodwind, in a sublime imitation of a profoundly human apotheosis.

Not that the Sixth movement overshadowed a work whose climaxes are a counterpoint to the surrounding landscape. A measure, only, of the peaks and troughs that climb inexorably to crescendo, the preceding and succeeding movements yielded a ‘way through the woods’ for the pilgrim, particularly in the gentler tones of the Arcadian Fourth movement, whose circuitous husbandry of feeling negotiated a mellifluous and reflective pathway, between passages of funereal, bass-heavy languor (the Second) - marshalled with perfect diction by the excellent guest Baritone Robert Gildon – and the Fifth, which featured a crystalline and pitch-perfect rendering by emergent young Soprano, Jessica Harper.

But it is to orchestra and choir that we owe a debt of gratitude for a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Working in precise conjunction on what must be a difficult and multivalent piece to perform, the complex exchange and overlap of voices, complemented by the full weight of orchestral power, was a triumph. The concluding ovation spoke for itself, yielding confirmation that a cohesive and impassioned attitude to performance will elicit the very best, in performer and audience alike.

A German Requiem and Tragic Overture, op. 81 by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Langcliffe Singers & Settle Orchestra

Conductors: Darren Everhart & Maca Barbosa

Jessica Harper – Soprano

Robert Gildon – Baritone

Leader - Anne Heaton

A further performance of A German Requiem will be given at Settle Parish Church on Saturday, 25th November.