The Sixteen, Tetbury Music Festival
As I drove into Tetbury on this wet, murky night scores of people were to be seen scurrying under their umbrellas and converging on the Parish Church. There were parked cars just about everywhere but having found a vacant place I joined the crowds who filled the church to capacity. Needless to say the sense of expectation was almost tangible as Harry Christophers and his choir filed on to stage. Incidentally, I counted 22 and not 16!
We began with WH Harris's anthem "Faire is the Heaven" to the words of Spenser's lyrical poem. Helped by the church's crisp acoustic the words came over clearly with thrilling outpourings of sound at times , quiet and measured at others. Here was a choir in top form. As a sort of entracte the main work of the evening was preceded by the Romance in F, the fifth of Six Piano Pieces, opus 18, that Brahms wrote towards the end of his life. Here he reflects on the past years and the relations and friends no longer alive.
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Ein Deutsches Requiem was performed in Brahms's own arrangement for choir and piano duet with pianists Christopher Glynn and John Reid accompanying quite brilliantly throughout. The composer took his words from Luther's Bible but his work has no relation whatever to the canonical Office of the Dead and the name of Christ is avoided. Brahms has only one object: the consolation of the living. " Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted " is the message of the first chorus and the Requiem ends with "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…" There are sections of this work that must test the best of choirs but The Sixteen appeared to transcend all difficulties with ease. Equally impressive were the two soloists who were drawn from the ranks of the choir. Ben Davies's bass showed a remarkably fluent and technically adroit vocal technique and he sang with complete assurance. Soprano Julie Cooper was equally good; she has a an expressive voice rich in tone and flowing in its impassioned delivery. Whether on full throttle (where the quality of sound was never threatened) or in the funeral march to the words "Behold, all flesh is as grass" the choir never disappointed and the crescendo of applause at the end told its own story.