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How amiable are thy tabernacles ?

Brahms requiem books

Jane Pickles reviews Saturday May 18th’s Ashtead Choral Society concert at St Martin’s Epsom.

If you live in north Surrey, you are lucky to have such a busy and vibrant music scene with so many concerts given by so many different groups at so many different venues.

Quantity is one thing but Ashtead Choral Society’s Brahms concert on 18 May in Epsom highlighted the sheer quality and professionalism we also have available locally. Kent Sinfonia set the tone for an emotional evening with Brahms Tragic Overture. From Dr Andrew Storey’s first down beat we knew that the orchestra was as one in committing to Brahm’s journey of light and dark. Being a church St Martin’s does not have great sight lines for all seats, but the monitors allow the audience to observe up close what is going on, and it felt like Storey was able to give Kent Sinfonia space to play stepping in to only to encourage and finesse at key moments.

That brought us to Brahm’s German Requiem. We knew Kent Sinfonia were up for a night of high emotion, and the choir were not to be outdone with their first haunting ‘Selig sind’ (blessed are they) which developed into two wonderfully evocative movements delivered by choir and orchestra. The well-known second movement – ‘Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras’ (All flesh is a grass) – was delivered with purpose building to promised ‘joy and gladness’. Talking of quality, it was good to see the baritone, Daniel Tate, and soprano, Eleanor Pennell-Briggs back in Epsom for this event. Tate’s appearance saw him work his intonement, ‘Lord, make me to know mine end’, building with the orchestra and choir to a long, glorious final fugue from Storey into which players and singers flung themselves.

After a welcome glass of wine, the choir eased us back into Brahms’ journey with the motet-like ‘How amiable are thy tabernacles’ before Pennell-Briggs gave us the comfort promised by the fifth movement with mesmerizing tenderness and simplicity. Tate’s return portended more drama, and the choir did not disappoint with cries of ‘death where is thy sting?’ from which Storey set up a triumphant ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power.’ This might have been a fine hopeful and triumphant end to the work, but Brahms gives us a final seventh movement ending as he starts with a reprise of the tender ‘selig sind’ motif from which Storey eased us to final ‘rest from our labours’ as Brahms’ epic melted into peace.

ACS is commemorating Remembrance Day in Epsom on 9 November and I have no doubt their assembled forces will provide another great evening of quality music with their programme of Hadyn’s Nelson Mass and Faure’s Requiem.

Jane Pickles

Related reports:

Ashtead Choral Society give a lesson in three Rs

Ashtead Choral Society celebrated Surrey’s Vaughan Williams.

Image: Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED