Brahms’ Requiem- The Gisborne Singers

Sunday, May 28th, Gisborne Church of Christ, New Gisborne

  • Musical Director:  Stephen Brockman
  • Soprano:  Lee Abrahmsen, Baritone:  Manfred Pohlenz
  • Orchestra led by Francine Maas

The Gisborne Singers is a community choir of around sixty voices.  Stephen Brockman has directed the choir since 2009.  For this year’s first concert, the program was Brahms’ (German) Requiem.

Brahms’ Requiem is a non-liturgical piece in seven movements, for choir, soprano and bass soloists and orchestra.  Brahms selected texts from the German translation of the Bible.  The work was originally sung in German, in contrast to traditional liturgical settings, which follow the Latin mass.  In keeping with the tradition of performing the work in the vernacular, The Gisborne Singers’ performance was in English.

The choir coped admirably with the sustained singing required.  Choir features in all seven movements, with little respite.  The sopranos, in particular, coped admirably with the high tessitura and sustained singing demanded.  The choral blend was excellent throughout.  Stephen Brockman’s assured direction elicited a full range of dynamics, including some wonderful sustained crescendos and diminuendos.

The chamber orchestra of strings, woodwind, french horn, keyboard harp and timpani was led by Francine Maas.  The timpani features throughout the work, but is especially ominous in the second and third movements.  The opening of the second movement features strings and timpani and was chillingly atmospheric and ominous in this performance.  In the third movement, for baritone and chorus, the sense of doom continues – “Lord, let me know my end.”

The well known “How Lovely are Thy Dwellings” chorus follows, relaxing the tension with the promise of an afterlife in the house of the lord.  This is a lusciously romantic chorus.

Lee Abrahmsen and Manfred Pohlenz

The fifth movement begins with a soprano solo, beautifully sung in this performance by Lee Abrahmsen.  This is followed by the second of the two movements for baritone and chorus.  Manfred Pohlenz continued his fine performance with “Behold I shew you a mystery”.  Both singers showed the ability to go beyond technical expertise into the emotional interpretation of text that Brahms’ music deserves.  This was world-class singing.

The final movement, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord” provided a warm and triumphant ending.  The work ends quietly on an orchestral chord with ascending harp arpeggio – a promise of hope.

The choir sang beautifully throughout, though, as is common in community choirs, there was an imbalance in strength and numbers between the men’s and women’s parts. The Gisborne Singers are addressing this issue by admitting some female tenors and capping the number of sopranos.

This was a most satisfying performance of a work which is often performed by much larger forces.  Matching this fine community choir with professional instrumentalists and soloists resulted in a quality performance of a very high standard indeed.

The next major work to be presented by The Gisborne Singers is The Creation by Joseph Haydn, on 19th and 26th November.

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