Brahms and Szymanowski at Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey) is London's principal Roman Catholic church, built in 1903. However my visit yesterday was purely secular, for a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Bach Choir, conducted by David Hill, including Szymanowski's Stabat Mater and the Brahms German Requiem.

It's a huge venue - the nave can seat around 1200 and was almost full - and with a reverberation time of over 4 seconds one would expect the music to be rather clouded. Although inevitably fast sections were not as detailed as they would have been in a concert hall, the sound was surprisingly clear: of course the works were written with a church acoustic in mind, and really allowed the solo voices (Carolyn Sampson, Anna Burford and Grant Doyle) and the choir (about 190 voices) to soar.

The Szymanowski is ethereal and dissonant but over its 35-odd minutes builds a cumulative emotional effect. The Brahms is better known: running 65 minutes it is a romantic requiem for the dead (though not really a Christian one - though the text is drawn from the Bible and the Apocrypha, Christ is not mentioned). The powerful emotional effect of the music was heightened by the cathedral acoustic - quite a different experience from, say, the rather dry acoustic of the Royal Festival Hall. The performances were excellent.

By some quirk the programmes had the pages in the wrong order, placing the libretto for the Szymanowski (Latin) in the middle of the Brahms (German) - I noticed several audience members studiously following the former in the middle of the latter (though to be fair you couldn't really hear the words anyway).

See a picture of the nave of Westminster Cathedral

Download a Google Earth placemark for Westminster Cathedral

Posted: Thu - June 1, 2006 at 08:49 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM