Review: Music to die for

London Philharmonic Orchestra Royal Albert Hall

On the eve of the most solemn day in the Christian calendar, a timely reminder of what separates us from the angels. Brahms's Schicksalslied ("Song of Destiny", after the poem by Friedrich Holderlin) shows us the hereafter and grieves for the here and now. Celestial bliss, earthly torment. Brahms, the agnostic, undergoes a temporary (or more lasting?) conversion. Though it followed some three years after Ein Deutsches Requiem, it is a fitting prelude to it. It shows us the way. Religious in the best sense. Good for the soul.

So, too, is the Requiem, of course, though its concern is very much for the living, the bereaved: "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted". At the Royal Albert Hall last Thursday, Daniele Gatti took the orchestral introduction of the former and by way of some extraordinarily pale and interesting pre-echoes from the Royal Philharmonic violins, carried the sense and sensibility, the serenity, across a disruptive and unnecessary interval, to the ascending cellos and violas and light-seeking oboe at the start of the Requiem. This is a work about human feelings, not religious ideals. Come the great double-fugue of the third movement - "But the righteous souls are in the hand of God" - the words may proclaim the Almighty, but the eternal pedal D, that so confounded its first audience, is anchored firmly in this world, not the next.

And such was the spirit of Gatti's reading. As ever, it was all in the phrasing: a natural songfulness (closer to cantilena than the German equivalent), rhythmic shape and purpose (no immoveable object, no monument, this), an operatic way with the-word-made-flesh. When the excellent baritone soloist Bo Skovhus came to reveal the moment of our deliverance, or otherwise, at "the last trump", he was very much "on stage". And what defiance Gatti elicited from the chorus in their great shouts of "O death, where is thy sting?". Indeed, this chorus - a grand confluence of the Philharmonia and London Philharmonic voices - were undoubtedly at their best flinging out the full-throated fugal exhortations. In meditative mode, sopranos and tenors in particular - exposed as they are above the musical parapet - were somewhat frayed around the edges, prone to incidents of drop-out or poorly sustained pitch.

They weren't alone. Amanda Roocroft - the voice of maternal love in that most exquisite of exchanges between soprano and chorus - was not just the wrong voice for the job, but the wrong voice below par. She sang, as ever, with commendable feeling, but the beat in the voice is now so intrusive that it's hard to distinguish exactly how close we are to the centre of any given note. Which is unsettling. In this instance, I'd say the milk of human kindness was definitely on the turn. This is the still centre of the Requiem - an oasis of calm, contemplation, consolation. The voice of Brahms's own mother is recalled. It simply won't do that it is sweet and true to his ears but not to ours.

When it came, though, the end was very lovely: blessed souls laid to rest to the strains of one last chorale wreathed in luminous Brahmsian harmonies. But we were not in mourning. That much was clear from the inspiring reach of Gatti's RPO violins. Suddenly Brahms's German Requiem was not so German, and not so much a Requiem.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: Do you have a passion...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30,000

    £14000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you seek a friendly workplac...

    Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Kent - up to £33,000

    £30000 - £33000 per annum + bonus and pension: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn