Music Review: North London Chorus at Barbican
- Credit: Archant
Last year, the North London Chorus travelled to Berlin to perform Britten’s War Requiem with Cantus Domus in front of 1,200 people. The flier for this concert carried the line “Themes for reconciliation and remembrance” and included a picture of a red poppy. Mindful of the centenary of the start of the First World War, the careful selection of works continued these themes which are so deeply embedded in Brittten’s great work.
Reflecting the composition of the audience, the programme had notes in English and German and the first half of the evening was conducted by Cantus Domus’ Ralf Sochaczewsky with Murray Hipkin taking the baton for the Requiem.
Brahms’ Requiem has almost become a cliche in the context of the fall of Germany and the horror of the two world wars – it was the go-to piece for a generation of documentary film-makers in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But, from the sombre, melancholy opening chords of the first movement, through to the terrifyingly beautiful Denn alles Fleisch, the packed audience of 600 was reminded why it is such a powerful and emotional work.
The evening had started with some lesser known pieces by Mendelssohn and Brahms as well as Arvo Pärt’s meditation on Benjamin Britten. It is a dark brooding work, intense and plaintive as it opens up different textures against the solemn striking of a bell getting louder and louder. What became clear to the en-rapt audience was the power and restrained majesty of the 150 voices in the combined choirs.
Co-mingled in five long rows on the platform (with the brilliant Meridian Sinfonia at their feet) and occupying a high gallery above and behind, the noise the choir produced completely filled the space of this medium-sized hall.
Both conductors were terrific and shared a lightness of touch and intense relationship with the chorus that allowed them to turn in magnificent performances. This was one of those evenings when the performers collectively gave their all – by Tuesday morning they would have been hollowed out but still elated!
The days of municipal town twinning are, sadly, long gone, but this partnership produced some serenely beautiful music and, no doubt, some friendships that will endear. I hope this hands across the North Sea relationship is sustained.
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Visit northlondonchorus.org.uk for news of Beethoven’s Mass in C in November.