Saturday 25 March 2023
Holy Trinity Church, Exmouth

Exeter Festival Chorus made the journey to the sympathetic acoustic of Holy Trinity Church, Exmouth, for its Spring concert on 25 March 2023 and a performance of the German Requiem by Brahms.  And it would have been particularly gratifying for the choir that its initiative had attracted a full house on an evening that later turned out to be a very wet one!

In one respect the concert had an unusual element of déjà vu about it, with the choir revisiting its performance (in Exeter under its previous Musical Director) in 2009 of the Requiem accompanied not by an orchestra but by a transcription, perhaps more a creative reinterpretation, prepared by Brahms, of the orchestral parts for piano duet (and first performed as such in a private house in London in 1871).  In performance, listeners may miss the atmospheric colouring and expression of the original scoring while, for the choir, the greater transparency offered by the reduced accompaniment means that it has nowhere to hide.  Under its current, energetic Musical Director, Andrea Brown, the EFC met this challenge with aplomb, with clear diction of the German text, a commendable level of accurate tuning throughout, a warmth in the more consoling parts of the work (the fourth movement, for instance) and a dynamic drive to the work's great fugues.  Perhaps the lower voices were a little light at times but at no great detriment to the impact of the performance.

Individual contributions to the evening must be mentioned.  It was a pleasure to hear the two soloists in the Requiem, Lisa Moffat (soprano) and Matthew Palmer (baritone), the latter especially authoritative.  And yes, while a strong preference for the colour and subtlety of the original orchestration accompanying the choral parts remains, the piano duettists, Peter Adcock (who was repeating his role from 2009) and Peter King provided stirring support with Brahms' often difficult transcription of the orchestral score (though the instrument itself seemed somewhat ungrateful in tone). 

As an entrée to this moving performance of the Requiem, the audience enjoyed three of the composer's songs, all sensitively accompanied by Peter Adcock.  Lisa Moffat had particular fun with Des Liebsten Schwur (The Lover's Vow), while Matthew Palmer's singing of Wie froh und frisch (How Briskly and Brightly) joyously matched the expectation of the opening lines, 'How briskly and brightly my spirits soar'.

Much enjoyment to be had, then, from the EFC's excursion to Exmouth.  Andrea Brown has worked the choir into fine (and, one should say, attentive) fettle and the enthusiastic reception from the audience suggests that a return visit to Holy Trinity would be more than welcome!

David Batty