Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem should be mandatory for anyone (and there are many) who has ever uttered a disparaging or ill-considered word against its composer.
Under the conspicuously talented Yannick Nezet-Seguin it shone, it thundered, it inspired awe and consolation in equal measure. I can’t honestly remember when it last sounded so all-enveloping.
But first there was the little matter of reconstructed Mendelssohn to consider – and how quickly it evaporated from the memory in the wake of the Brahms. Marcello Bufalino’s well-meaning but somewhat pointless completion of a 3rd Mendelssohn Piano Concerto in E “for England” sounded oddly incomplete, as though that which was missing was still, well, missing. Strangest of all here was the inescapable impression of piano and orchestra as two quite separate events – one or the other, question and/or response - meaning that little of interest united them beyond a few too many merely decorative cascades from the keyboard. The orchestra writing (almost entirely Bufalini’s) was especially plain and dowdy and quite without Mendelssohn’s inner ear for fantasy. A dreamy little cadenza in the finale brought forth a glimpse of that but it came from nowhere and led nowhere. A bit of a stitch-up in quite the wrong sense, then: nice tunes but precious little interest beyond that. Roberto Prosseda played it prettily enough but the “Song without words” he offered as an encore after just a single recall to the platform only served to eclipse what had gone before.
And then it was forgotten. As that richly consoling alliance between cellos and violas proffered solace in lamentation from the opening bars of Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem and the chorus’ words “Blessed are they that mourn” left one in no doubt as to its grateful recipients, Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s labour of love on a work he so clearly reveres put not a foot wrong. With wonderfully sensitive and articulate singing from the London Philharmonic Choir the fine balance between the work’s deep and abiding compassion and its death-defying exultation was memorably achieved. Awe was duly forthcoming as the mighty cortege of “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras” rolled out, low horns and pounding timpani accentuating its black splendour, and those fugal codas were properly rollocking, hopeful affairs – blasts from the past powering towards the future.
A requiem for the living, then, and at its heart one and only one soprano solo: Elizabeth Watts’ prowess in Strauss served her well in this seraphic movement - the still, small, maternal voice of comfort for us all.