Classical review: RSNO: Brahms’ German Requiem, Edinburgh Usher Hall

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Brahms’s Requiem is not the easiest work to programme, in terms of finding an appropriate work to accompany it.

But the RSNO hit the nail on the head with Peter Lieberson’s Songs of Love and Sorrow, written in the wake of his first wife’s (the singer Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson’s) premature death, and tragically in anticipation of his own.

As with the earlier Neruda Songs, these are remarkable settings of words by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, though the musical language is unmistakably profound and more deeply personal.

They were sung on Friday by the baritone Gerald Finley, who premiered them in 2010, and whose understanding of their quiet, autumnal ecstasy was palpable in a performance heaped with throbbing tenderness and sublime passion.

Dutch conductor Lawrence Renes latched on to the exquisite orchestral shades that colour the sultry score, and made the most of the Wagnerian surges that punctuate the calm.

We could have done with more surges in the Brahms than Renes was prepared to allow in a performance marked by a resolute patience and unflinching steadiness.

There was no disputing the self-belief of his slow tempi, nor his precision engineering of Brahms’s mahogany orchestral textures, nor indeed the clean confidence of the RSNO Chorus.

Nor could we have wished for anything more searingly impressive than the solo pairing of Finley’s and Scots soprano Kate Valentine.

But there were moments where the co-ordination between chorus and orchestra appeared to shudder, as if to question the slow approach.

Rating: ***