Listening to Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem with its alternative piano-duet accompaniment makes one realise what a curate’s egg the piece is, even though the arrangement is by the composer himself.
Problems of balance are, of course, solved at a stroke, enabling the vocal writing to flower in every detail, which it certainly did in this finely shaped account by Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Bach Choir. With lines effortlessly sustained, and dynamic contrasts sounding even more potently charged without an orchestra, the 65 singers were able to explore the expressive subtleties of chamber music while also drawing on the resources of heavy-duty choral display.
But, even though the longfordbrown piano duo (as James Longford and Lindy Tennent-Brown style themselves) delivered the accompaniment with considerable finesse, the performance as a whole often felt like a well-polished rehearsal.
We missed the magisterial tread of ‘Denn alles Fleisch’ and comforting warmth of ‘Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen’ that only an orchestra can provide, and the trumpets raising the dead in ‘Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg’ would have sounded much more awesome had they literally been present – although chorally this and the concluding fugue packed lots of punch.
Soprano soloist Kirsty Stokes similarly seized her moment, with a commandingly effulgent, full throttled ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’; and Alastair Ollerenshaw’s two baritone solos displayed dramatic edge and splendidly clear articulation.
The first half offered assorted French fragrances. Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine was deliciously sensuous, and Duruflé’s unaccompanied Four Motets on Gregorian Themes were sung with great poise and tonal freshness. For the two pianists Chabrier’s Valses Romantiques provided a sparkling, if slightly incongruous (and rather overlong) easy listening interlude.