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Brahms and Vaughan Williams

18 May 2024, 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
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Summertown Choral Society

Conductor: Duncan Saunderson

Gareth Brynmor John
Elspeth Piggott

Piano: Julian Littlewood

Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs

Franck: Prélude, Choral et Fugue

Brahms: A German Requiem

Concert programme

As one of the world’s greatest composers, Johannes Brahms looked back to the serious classicism of Bach and Beethoven. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in his Bach-style motet Warum is das Licht gegeben with its four chords brilliantly leaving a question mark (“Why?”) in the air, flawless counterpoint and exquisite chorale harmonisations. Not bad for a man who spent his youth playing  piano in “squalid Hamburg taverns”!

His first great success (where all the above and so much more is present)was the German Requiem (words taken from Luther’s translation of the Bible). It is unusual in that there are none of the standard Catholic Requiem words and Christ is not mentioned. He once described it as a “humanist Requiem”, and underneath a superficial austerity there is a great message of hope, joy and consolation for the living. It is full of some of his finest music, so admired but rarely matched by Parry and Stanford, and is a pillar of the Western musical tradition.

The later work, Five Mystical Songs by Vaughan Williams was first performed in the Three Choirs Festival at Worcester in 1911. It sets words by the Anglican priest and poet George Herbert. The “cheerful agnostic” Vaughan Williams, like Brahms looked back, and English folksong and Tudor music were influential. This is present but he allows the choir and soloist some glittering flamboyance! The work, for baritone soloist and choir, from the striking opening chords and dazzling choral entry of “Rise Heart”, through the sublime beauty of “The Call” to the glorious finale “Let All The World In Every Corner Sing” is a joy to discover and perform!

Gareth Brynmor John (baritone)
Having won the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Competition in 2013, he made his debut with Welsh National Opera in 2017. He has given recitals in the Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square, and he was the baritone soloist in last year’s Carols from Kings, broadcast all over the world. The Brahms Requiem and the great baritone and chorus ‘song cycle’ Five Mystical Songs, which Gareth has performed for Danish Radio, is the perfect showcase for this world class baritone.

Elspeth Piggott (soprano)
We shall also be delighted to welcome back soprano soloist Elspeth Piggott, who has sung with SCS at several of our concerts over the last few years. She is keen on the dual art forms of music and drama, in both traditional opera and newly devised works. She is also a sought-after soloist for the baroque repertoire.

Julian Littlewood (piano)
For this concert we shall be performing Brahms’ German Requiem with piano accompaniment provided by Julian Littlewood, a talented exponent of Brahms’ piano repertoire and the author of a book on his work, The Variations of Johannes Brahms. Julian has been active on the Oxford musical scene and beyond for some 30 years as pianist, organist and conductor, and has long been the society’s accompanist.

Date: 18 May 2024
Time: 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Venue Name: St Andrew’s Church, Oxford
Address: Linton Rd
Oxford, OX2 6UG United Kingdom

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Phone: +44 1865 311212