Choirs join forces with SASO for Brahms Requiem

Bjorn Bantock with St Cecilia Festival choir members
Bjorn Bantock with St Cecilia Festival choir members

Three choirs and two internationally-acclaimed soloists will join forces with SASO on Saturday 26th October to perform the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms  –  a heartfelt setting of biblical texts about death by a composer who was an avowed religious sceptic. (7.30pm, St Albans Cathedral).
 The concert is the latest in a biennial series organised by the St Cecilia Festival Society, which brings together Harpenden’s Hardynge Choir, with the St Albans Chamber Choir, Radlett Choral Society and the orchestra.

The choice of conductor is shared between the member organisations and this year, for the first time  Bjorn Bantock, SASO’s principal conductor, will be wielding the baton.

The Brahms Requiem “to Words of the Holy Scriptures”  is  a setting of words from the Lutheran bible, rather than the Latin mass for the dead. Although the music is, by turns, solemn, serene and dramatic – including a stirring depiction of resurrection day – it contains no reference to hell fire or damnation.  
Written over several years at a relatively early stage in the composer’s career, it coincided with the deaths of Brahms’s mother and his fellow composer and mentor, Robert Schumann. When eventually completed, the Requiem helped seal his national and international reputation.

The last movement Brahms added to the work was an exquisite setting for soprano soloist and choir of words from St John’s gospel. It will be sung by Geraldine McGreevy, who has pursued a successful career  appearing in opera, as a recitalist and on concert stages around the world,. A past winner of the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Award, she has appeared in leading roles at – among many European venues  – Berlin’s Komische Oper, the Frankfurt Opera and Welsh National Opera. She has sung with Sir Simon Rattle at the Proms, made a number of recital recordings, and is heard regularly on BBC Radio 3.
David Stout, the baritone soloist in the Requiem won the Principal’s Prize at the Guildhall School of Music and has since established an extensive repertoire of operatic roles, concert works and oratorios. He has regularly sung leading roles with both the  English and Welsh National Opera companies, at the Royal Opera House and at many international festivals. He has appeared as soloist in Beethoven’s Choral Symphony with Sir Colin Davies and sung with major orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic and Hallé. 

The concert will being with a performance by the orchestra of L’Ascension by the 20th century French composer, Olivier Messaien. Messaien was a devout Catholic and his work is made up of four religious meditations that give prominence to different sections of the orchestra. Written in 1932-3 it is a colourful example of the composer’s unique musical language – including his lifelong  fascination with birdsong.
The St Cecilia Festival Society provides support for two local charities. Net proceeds from the programme sales will be donated to Keech Hospice Care and the Rennie Grove Hospice Care.

Tickets, price £25, £20 and £15 (reserved) £8 (unreserved, restricted view) and £1 (accompanied children), are available from the St Cecilia Festival box office (0845 475 1664), the Cathedral information desk (01727 890256) or online from (booking fee applies).