Christopher Slater

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For their autumn concert on November 17 at St Martin's Church the Epsom Choral Society presented two contrasting works - the great German Requiem by Brahms and a lesser known work by Johann Hummel.

The Hummel is a Latin mass for liturgical use with the usual six movements. It is an attractive piece that could (and should) be sung by any competent church choir. The Brahms, on the other hand, was written as a concert work, and is unique in that the composer selected the words himself from the Lutheran Bible omitting any reference to Christ's death and resurrection. Brahms himself said for the German of the title could just as well be substituted the word Human. He subscribed to no religion and was what we might call a humanist today.

Both works received fine performances.  The Hummel was accompanied by Edward Batting on the organ, who made light of the not inconsiderable keyboard part. He and the conductor, Julian Collings, worked perfectly together, not an easy task with the organ console, in the organ loft, a considerable distance away from the conductor!

A feature of the performance that was to be admired throughout, both here and in the Brahms, was the lovely soft singing that the choir achieved as well as excellent internal balance.

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In the Brahms particularly the strict observance of dynamics was especially noticeable. All four parts could be heard, and the ensemble could not have been better! The sopranos were able to sustain their high notes (G's and occasional A's) without flagging right to the final numbers - a professional touch. The tenors managed their high line in the middle of How lovely are their dwellings without strain and to great effect. Those bars tend to send a shiver down one's back! The altos and basses gave great support in the various fugal passages, with clear and confident entries.

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The two young soloists in the Brahms - Nina Kanter (soprano) and Jon Stainsby (baritone), both adopted an operatic approach to their respective solos, with a larger sound than perhaps was necessary in this acoustic, but all in all this was a lovely performance with tempi judiciously chosen by conductor Julian Collings.

The large orchestra for which Brahms wrote had to be curtailed on this occasion and the score was arranged for a chamber ensemble with a piano discreetly covering the missing parts. Brahms himself realised that few societies would be able to cover the cost of a full orchestra, so he  arranged the orchestra part for piano duet, and in this way the work was performed under his direction at Bremen Cathedral in 1868. This arrangement might have been preferable, for even the excellent players of the Regent Chamber Ensemble could not make up for the colour of a full orchestra. 

 If I may add a postscript, no mention in the programme was made of the Society's pianist, Marion Lea, whose expertise in rehearsal, must have contributed to the overall quality of the choir.

Thanks to our guest reviewer, local musician Christopher Slater, M.A.(conducting distinction) and to our photographer Clive Richardson.

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