Though associated with the broadest of repertories, Vasily Petrenko has only recently started to make his mark as a Brahmsian. Given in Chester Cathedral as part of the city's Summer Music festival, this was his first ever performance of Ein Deutsches Requiem, and it proved a significant achievement, if at times an unusual one.
Petrenko's style has had to shift a bit to accommodate the music's mix of rigour and loftiness. He's a fine Brahms conductor, but he's also, rather surprisingly, a slow one. His trademark intensity is still very much in place, but he achieves it through the gradual accumulation of weight and momentum, rather than his more usual combination of volatility and incisiveness.
Much of the Requiem was extremely moving. The big fugues, clear yet sonorous in the echoey acoustic, had the assertive confidence of grand statements of faith. But the start of the second movement, with its stark emphasis on transience, was overwhelming in its grief and doubt, which made the final promises of consolation and calm all the more touching when we reached them.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's full, dark sound is admirably suited to Brahms, and there was singing of great splendour, precision and commitment from the Chester Festival Chorus. Andrew Foster-Williams was the forceful, humane baritone soloist, Sophie Bevan the elegant, if occasionally uninvolved, soprano.
The Requiem was prefaced by a solo organ work, Julius Reubke's Sonata: the 94th Psalm, played by cathedral organist Philip Rushforth. Reubke, who died at the age of 24, studied with Liszt, and his Sonata owes much to the latter's experiments with cyclic form. Rushforth played it with bravura dexterity and a fine understanding of its inner logic.
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