Guildford Choral Society and Guildford Symphony Orchestra were in full force at G-Live last Saturday 20th November 2021, to a full house, after an enforced eighteen months without concerts. They began with Brahms's First Symphony, a work which took the composer 22 months to write, so keen was he to match up to his musical hero Beethoven. Indeed he succeeded in doing that: the stirring tune in the last movement, framed by a glorious chorale melody on the horn, makes more than a nod to Beethoven's 9th (performed by the Choral Society before lockdown stopped everything).
Under Darrell Davison the orchestra did a splendid job: an arresting opening followed by some passages of great emotion. The slow movement evoked some lovely sounds from the orchestra, while the intermezzo, lighter in mood, proved a beautiful diversion. But the finale, with its searching opening leading to the splendid tune, and fraught with imaginative harmonies and instrumentation, really took off.
While working on the symphony, various tragedies in the composer's life, the death of his mentor Schumann and of his mother some years later, inspired Brahms to write a Requiem. No Latin Mass for this agnostic composer with a Lutheran background (the text comes from the Lutheran Bible), but an eloquent German text reflecting the human condition. From the outset the chorus sang with great conviction under Jonathan Willcocks's direction: although the sopranos were slightly under the note in some exposed passages, and we could have heard more from the altos in their great fugal lead ‘Herr, du bist würdig', somewhat drowned by some wonderful clarinet playing! The big fugal movements, particularly the one in the third movement over a pedal note ‘Die gerechten Seelen', were indeed thrilling, and there were some tender moments in the central movement ‘Wie lieblich', beloved of wedding couples. The orchestra played with aplomb, and the woodwind and the brass were particularly striking. Full marks to the flutes, one of whom switched to piccolo for one of the most dramatic episodes depicting the Last Judgement.
The choir and orchestra were served by two noteworthy soloists: bass Michael Ronan sang stylishly, and Louise Fuller, a late replacement, produced a wonderfully mellow tone in ‘Ihr habt non Traurigkeit', in many ways the centerpiece of the work and the last movement to be written.
In every way, this was a memorable concert.
- Shelagh Godwin