ONLY a single audience member had ever heard Schumann’s Requiem live, conductor Richard Egarr’s impromptu pre-concert poll discovered – and nobody in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra or SCO Chorus had ever performed it before, either. This was a very rare outing for the work, all right, and a welcome one, too, not least considering its unhappy background. It was Schumann’s final work, written in the Endenich asylum where he spent his last days, and almost certainly written for himself.
SCO / Richard Egarr
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****
Indeed, it’s hard to separate the music of Schumann’s Requiem from its sombre back story, especially in its obsessive, fiercely worked counterpoint, its jagged melodic writing and its overall air of melancholy introspection. Whether or not it’s the masterpiece that Egarr clearly considers it to be is up for debate, but it’s hard to imagine a more committed, considered, focused performance than this.
The SCO Chorus were on magnificent form, singing as if with a single voice in Schumann’s chordal writing and delivering his dense fugues with superb clarity. And Egarr reached bodily into the SCO ensemble to draw out beautifully shaped, assertive performances. His four vocal soloists didn’t get a huge amount to do, but tenor Thomas Hobbs stood out with his strongly projected, swelling lines.
Before the interval Egarr had led another rarity, Brahms’s “other” Serenade, the less frequently performed No. 2 in A, in a gritty, passionate account that drew splendidly on the distinctive sonorities of the small, violin-less ensemble – “dark and deep and delicious” in Egarr’s own words, which are hard to disagree with.