Review: Billingshurst Choral Society Concert

Billingshurst Choral Society (BCS) gave a monumental performance of Brahms’s wonderful “German Requiem”, the main work of the evening, ably accompanied by the Sinfonia of Arun (leader: Robin Morrish).

BCS’s favourite orchestra is currently celebrating its 21st birthday year. Fittingly, amongst its several concerts, it has chosen to feature several of its top soloists from within its ranks. This time it was the turn of principal Trumpeter, Jonathan Yates, who, with the orchestra, performed Haydn’s famous Concerto in E flat with great exuberance and aplomb.

The next soloist was a young Japanese student who had impressed Choral Director George Jones with her stunning violin-playing at one of her school concerts. Seventeen-year-old Natsumi Hatada attends Rikkyo School in Rudgwick, and it was heart-warming to see so many of her fellow students, teachers and her own parents who had flown in specially from Tokyo to support her. Natsumi gave a riveting and emotional performance of the beautiful slow movement from Max Bruch’s very popular Violin Concerto, sensitively accompanied by the orchestra.

Brahms’s unique Requiem was sung tonight in its original German, and has been variously dubbed A Protestant Requiem, A Human Requiem or A Requiem for Mankind. The Latin words of the Requiem Mass are here replaced by Lutheran Biblical texts, chosen by the composer, which emphasize the frailty of mankind and the promise of eternal life. The first three choruses (Blessed are they that mourn, For all flesh is as grass, and Lord, make me to know mine end) completed the first half of the concert and included the pleading velvety tones of solo Baritone Julian Tovey in the latter.

After the interval, the familiar “How Lovely are Thy Dwellings, Lord” floated across the hall in all its beauty and radiance. This contrasted with all the drama of the first three, as did the next chorus “And Ye now therefore have Sorrow”, meltingly led by Soprano Elizabeth Donovan.

Julian Tovey “shewed us a Mystery” which resulted in a terrific outburst from choir and orchestra, with the blaze of the last trumpet raising the dead and proclaiming the final victory over the grave.

Musically, the work ended as it began, this time from the Book of Revelations “Blessed are the Dead”

Brahms’s Requiem is notoriously challenging for any choir, being almost continuous singing with very little respite, where normally soloists would intervene. As such, the singers acquitted themselves extremely well, coping admirably with the language and the vast dynamic and emotional range required, fully supported by the orchestra..

Next weekend the orchestra will be again on duty, with BCS’s sister choir The Angmering Chorale presenting an all-Mozart evening and featuring founder-member Brian Shilham performing the lovely Clarinet Concerto. George Jones will again be in charge, the concert taking place on Saturday 23rd November at Arundel Cathedral at 7.30pm

Marilyn Dennis