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It was bad luck on Derby Choral Union and recently-appointed conductor Paul Provost that he should have made his debut in October 2019, just months before Covid lockdown. But in their first major concert together since, they clearly had no trouble picking up the threads again – St John's Church, Derby, UK, 14 May 2022.
There was just one work, Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem, sung in German, using Brahms' own version with piano duet, sensitively played by David Woodhouse and Beate Toyka. The opening chorus entry eased itself in gently, the music's consolatory tone also carrying an almost palpable sense of relief to be back performing again. Brahms's scene-setting was handled with tenderness and dignity, while the more energetic passage at '... und kommen mit Freuden' ('... and come with joy') suggested the reserves of energy that would be drawn on later.
The second movement combined solemnity with a firm sense of purpose. The expressive brightening at 'So seid nun geduldig' ('Therefore be patient') was effectively realised, and the two big outbursts were well prepared: first, the reprise of the opening, then 'Aber des Herrn Wort ...' ('But the word of the Lord ...'), leading seamlessly into the first of the work's three great fugues.
The baritone soloist in the third and sixth movements, Stephen Cooper, had a lighter tone than I was than expecting: less heavily patriarchal than we often hear, with a totally apt sense of human vulnerability. The work's second fugue, 'Der Gerechten Seelen' ('The righteous souls ...'), was the one point in the performance where the choir came close to being overbalanced by the piano duet team, and the tenor entry at the start was somewhat under-powered, but the final bars were firm and secure.
'Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen' ('How lovely are thy dwellings') is popular enough to have taken on something of an independent existence. It's the work's emotional bright point, and the Choral Union's performance conveyed this, alongside a sense more of hope and aspiration than an aim completely grasped.
Soprano Harriet Astbury phrased her fifth-movement solo eloquently, though a slight edge to her tone at less intimate moments suggested a voice more suited to larger spaces.
The sixth movement is another big fresco, to balance the second, and the choir grasped every expressive opportunity with both hands. The outburst at 'Dann wird erfüllet ...' ('Then shall be fulfilled ...') was positively ferocious, and the fugue at 'Herr, du bist würdig ...' ('Lord, thou art worthy ...') arrived with powerful sense of release. The final movement was an effective wind-down, and the final section, at 'Ja, der Geist spricht' ('Yea, saith the spirit') had a convincing sense of both resolution and inwardness.
Copyright © 25 May 2022