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Review: Royal Northern Sinfonia at the Sage Gateshead

The new classical music season at Sage Gateshead began with a brace of requiems and a sad announcement

The Sage Gateshead Music Centre with the Baltic
The Sage Gateshead Music Centre with the Baltic

The new classical music season at Sage Gateshead began with a brace of requiems and a sad announcement.

Sunday’s concert was dedicated to David Huntington, a popular member of the Royal Northern Sinfonia Chorus who died of cancer in September.

But if this makes it seem a sombre affair, it really wasn’t. It was more an exhilarating celebration of a life with the orchestra and chorus on top form and a large audience to give its rousing appreciation.

The main course, Brahms’ A German Requiem, was preceded by a taster, Takemitsu’s Requiem for strings. Toru Takemitsu, who died in 1996, was a bridge between western and eastern styles of music.

This very short piece, written in 1957, signalled a major new talent and was performed in Hall One as a fragile thing of beauty.

The Brahms, written in response to the death of the composer’s mother and his friend Robert Schumann, is beautiful too.

Experts will tell you Brahms tinkered with liturgical convention to create a very personal piece, with no mention of Jesus Christ.

Under Thomas Zehetmair’s conducting, orchestra, chorus and two excellent soloists – bass-baritone Matthew Brook and soprano Elizabeth Atherton – did full justice to a work which betrays a winning lightness of touch.

In the moment following the final note, you could have heard a pin drop.

Before the concert, Anthony Sargent, general director of Sage Gateshead, pointed out that this is the first season featuring the now Royal Northern Sinfonia and the last involving Thomas Zehetmair, its music director.

The popular and highly regarded Austrian is moving on but has been given the title conductor laureate, meaning his association with the orchestra will continue.

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