In a month chock full of music for Marlborough, one of the stand out occasions will be the Swindon Choral Society’s performance of the Brahms Requiem and Dvorak’s Te Deum (March 16).
It will see the return to Marlborough of soprano Leigh Michelow who last summer performed an outstanding recital at St Peter’s Church in the Brilliant Young Musicians series. She is based in Austria.
Here Robin Nelson – the Swindon Choral Society’s conductor – previews this special occasion in a very special year for the Society:
I am relishing the prospect of returning to the College Chapel with my choir, especially as we are performing the Brahms Requiem, one of the finest of the many nineteenth century settings. It is distinctive for its use of the Lutheran bible rather than the customary Latin sources.
Brahms compiled the text himself from both Old and New Testaments and from the Apocrypha, omitting the horrors of the Last Judgement and any final plea for mercy or prayers for the Dead. Eine Deutsche Requiem was quickly recognised as a masterpiece and confirmed Brahms’ reputation as a composer of international status.
I identify with its humanist standpoint, most clearly felt in the second movement which proclaims the inevitability of man’s fate with a menacing funeral march in the minor key, hushed initially and then repeated fortissimo. It is a work from the Romantic period, often dark and subdued in its colours, but in the fugal finales to some movements in the tradition of the great Bach and Handel choral masterpieces.
We will perform the work in a version Brahms created for piano duet accompaniment, ideal for a medium-sized choir such as ours. Ian Crabbe and Shelley Morgan are the duet partners.
Former College organist Ian Crabbe plays the Chapel’s mighty Beckerath instrument in Dvorak’s Te Deum, with which the concert begins. He is joined by a trio of trumpeters and a timpanist in this celebratory and affirmative short work, an ideal foil to the Brahms.
One reason for the combination is that both works require a Soprano and a Baritone soloist and I am much looking forward to working with Leigh Michelow, who I first heard in one of the excellent Brilliant Young Musicians in St Peter’s Church series last summer. An American-born soprano now based in Salzburg, Leigh has been praised for her ‘filigree technique paired with an unpretentious natural stage presence’.
Jon Stainsby was our Baritone soloist in Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light: A Requiem, when we performed it in Malmesbury Abbey last autumn. Equally at home singing Lieder, Opera and sacred music Jon’s rich tones are ideally suited to the sombre solo passages in the Brahms work.
This concert opens the choir’s ninetieth anniversary year – a very busy and exciting one – which will include the second performance of my cantata Atlantic Odyssey in Swindon’s Steam Museum on 25 May.
We will be joined by singers from the JTP Trust Concert Choir, as well as choir members from the Choral Society of Middle Georgia and Mercer University, Georgia, USA, three soloists and a twenty-piece orchestra, complemented by stunning projected images provided by local photographer and conservationist David White.
The Brahms/Dvorak concert is on 16 March 2019 at 7.30pm in the College Chapel. Details here.