Choir singing in Royal Hall
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Harrogate
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Review

Dvorak Te Deum
Brahms German Requiem

Harrogate Choral Society with Amici Ensemble

The Royal Hall, Harrogate, 14 March 2015

Brahms and Dvorak flyer

Choral Society triumphant in Royal Hall performance

Harrogate Choral Society's concert at the Royal Hall on 14th March offered an attractive programme with Dvorak's Te Deum and Brahms' German Requiem. These pieces require a large orchestra and the number of players assembled by the Amici Ensemble was the largest I can recall at the Royal Hall. This created a problem because, particularly in the first half, the orchestra stretched out in front was too loud for the choir bunched on the stage behind. It may help to explain why the opening work, the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms, was disappointing. Malcolm Sargent's version had been chosen, but the choral rendering of the famous student tune Gaudeamus Igitur was indistinctly heard and insufficiently cheerful.

Dvorak's Te Deum is not frequently performed and that is a pity because it is a lovely work, joyfully revelling in its praise of divine majesty and achievement. The curves and rhythmic pulse of the melodies are pleasing as are the dynamic changes. Balance between orchestra and choir apart, this was a fine performance. The work provides ample opportunity for individual sections of the chorus to be heard unaccompanied by the rest and we could thus appreciate the strength of the Harrogate Society's different voices, not least the tenors. I have never heard them sing so brightly and with such confidence. The soloists were excellent. Sarah Power, with the appearance of a maiden in a Pre-Raphaelite painting, deployed her lyric soprano to great effect, communicating her fervour directly to the audience, while Duncan Rock's handsome baritone rolling out above the orchestra could not have been more appropriate for the appreciation of God's glory.

I have a confession to make regarding the Brahms Requiem. Whether or not influenced by Bernard Shaw's irreverent quip that the work "could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker", I had previously found it too intense and severe. How wrong I was! It is a beautiful - at times serene, at times fervent - work in a Lutheran mode reconciling mourning with the fact of death. For the Harrogate choir it was hugely demanding. They were singing almost throughout and had to face the challenge of two long fugal passages, but they succeeded triumphantly. Carefully observing changes in dynamics and tempo, they were also able to communicate German concepts which lie at the heart of the work. While they might have made more of the second consonant in "Tod" (dead), their colouring of the word "selig" (blessed) was memorable, as was their rendering of the steady progression of the flesh towards dissolution. The soloists again excelled. It was altogether a powerful and moving performance which totally converted me to the work. So a very big thank you to conductor Andrew Padmore and his forces.

Anthony Ogus