On the resonant centenary of the Armistice Marin Alsop and the OAE presented a programme representing the quintessence of English and German spirituality. The pendant piece to Brahms’s profound and expansive Requiem was Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia. The magical layering effects were teased out with expressive precision by Alsop, and gut strings bore no vibrato or sentimentality. Alsop’s eager gaze flitted with intensity from quartet to the two ensembles, shaping a performance that was quietly formidable.
The Choir of the Enlightenment took centre-stage behind an enlarged orchestra, and the airy textures of the Vaughan Williams were sublimely carried across into Brahms’s German setting. The tenors were particularly sweet in the first movement, among the forty-strong group composed of young professionals, the mood shifting between contemplation, sadness and joy: a microcosm of the work as a whole. Detail from harp and the trumpet of David Blackadder brought hints of the celestial as the landscape changed to one of mortality and decay in ‘Denn alles Fleisch ist wie gras’, its golden climax fusing Bach chorale and Wagnerian brass.
Samuel Hasselhorn was a late replacement for James Newby. He impressed in the introspective ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’ with burnished articulation, and beatific peace broke out in ‘Wir lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’. Elizabeth Watts’s rich soprano endowed ‘Ihr habt nur Traurigkeit’ with an array of feeling and expression, and the penultimate movement opened with polished refinement from the Choir and became a crescendo of apocalyptic proportions for the depiction of the last trump and the raising of the dead. The strings and brass of the OAE added Technicolor to this shattering vision before Brahms and Alsop took us to a final place of serenity. This exceptional, inclusive and timeless tribute to the Fallen will remain long in the memory.