Brahm’s Requiem at Mepkin: The perfect combination


MONCKS CORNER The All Souls Day performance of Ein Deutsches Requiem was another in a long line of artistic successes at Mepkin Abbey. The Trappist monks had to turn down dozens of ticket requests for the Nov. 2 concert.

Abbot Francis Kline attributed the sellout to the popularity of Brahms, but concert-goers knew better. People like Phyllis Cordina of St. John’s parish in North Charleston had been to other concerts at the Abbey and anticipated the turnout.

“It was marvelous,” Cordina said. “I’m glad I got tickets early.”

It seemed to many the perfect way to spend a sunny autumn afternoon in the Lowcountry, strolling alongside the river at Mepkin and then absorbing the energy of the Vocal Arts Ensemble. The Ensemble’s fulsome sound suited the Brahm’s Requiem wonderfully, and the synergy they created didn’t escape notice by the organist, Larry Long. Long’s face contorted with concentration as he strove mightily to keep up with the range of the chorus throughout the 90 minute concert. Happily, the Scots Presbyterian Church musician was up to the task. The fugue at the end of the third movement made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, yet when Long led the chorus into the melancholy words of consolation through most of the Requiem, his playing was sweet and full of the solace that the composer sought to convey.

The Vocal Arts Ensemble is a local group of 30 or so “exquisite” voices, according to Alex Moore of the cathedral in Charleston. Moore came to listen to those voices and the complementing instruments.

Much of the drama of the concert emanated from the thundering drums of David W. Maves, who Moore called the best timpanist in the state, and the flitting, poetic fingers of harpist Elisabeth Gray. Baritone Maffett W. Dowd’s voice was the equal of the powerful tympana, as he sang two long solos from his place within the chorus. His voice is rich and strong.

The other soloist was Jane Evatt Hill, who held a special appeal to concert-goer Sen. Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings: “She grew up next door to me and I always enjoy hearing her sing. Her voice carries so.”

Hill’s classic face was indeed matched by the beauty of her voice.

A performance within the performance at Ein Deutsches Requiem was the work of the conductor and chorus master of the Vocal Arts Ensemble. My only complaint about it was that Samuel Sheffer had his back to the audience. Most of the crowd reveled in the non-stop action of his expressive hands, but few could see Sheffer’s deep-set eyes flashing signals, warnings and praise to his musicians and the facial transitions as he mouthed song and encouragement.

With artists such as Sheffer, Long, Hill, Dowd and the Vocal Arts Ensemble working their magic among the live oaks and rolling lawns of Mepkin, it’s no wonder that Brahms was so popular on this Sunday afternoon.

“It was a glorious way to celebrate All Souls Day,” said Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of Divine Redeemer in Hanahan. “It was the right combination of weather, place and music.”

The Brahms concert was a Diocesan Millennium Event. Pope John Paul II designated 1997 as a time of reflection on the mystery of Christian faith, a year to reflect on the hope of the living who mourn the dead and on the promise of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Also, Johannes Brahms died in 1897.