Brahms (Ein) deutsches Requiem
Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s expertly engineered Vienna Philharmonic recording of Ein deutsches Requiem has been sitting in the vaults for some three years but its late release reveals no obvious reason for the delay: the performance is both beautifully shaped (especially from the woodwinds) and devotional in spirit. The closing “Selig sind die Toten” presents a warming richness of texture, the underlying rhythmic pulse admirably clear, while the sombre processional of “Denn alles Fleisch” builds well, the contrasting “So seid nun geduldig” (“Be patient, therefore”) lightened with the subtlest touch. Thomas Hampson sounds a mite frail in his first solo, though given that knowing one’s frailty is the subject of the text, the effect may well be intentional. For my taste, Genia Kühmeier is just a little too operatic in her approach to “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit”; the idea of renewed joy needs something a little more serene. Both Lynn Dawson for Sir Roger Norrington and Charlotte Margiono for Sir John Eliot Gardiner fit the bill more comfortably (not to mention Gundula Janowitz on Karajan’s first DG recording), and Norrington’s Olaf Bär is especially convincing in the baritone solos.
But there’s a richly recorded second newcomer (“newer-comer”, actually – it dates from 2009) that begs consideration, where Marek Janowski conducts the forces of Berlin Radio with Camilla Tilling and Detlef Roth. Here the choral singing is especially good, while Janowski’s conducting really makes you sit up. The principal draw of his performance is its drama, especially the second climax of “Denn alles Fleisch”, which is so much more powerful than the first and significantly more powerful than anyone else’s in this particular batch. Norrington gives the fastest performance of the four, keeping as he does more or less to Reinthaler’s (later abandoned) metronome markings, and as ever with him, the effect is keenly spontaneous. Gardiner is in the same ballpark, roughly speaking, though his performance wears a warmer countenance. But for me both the newcomers stack up well against the existing competition, Janowski scoring highest for immediate impact, Harnoncourt for imagination and for weaving his way beneath and between the notes. Both in their different ways capture the unique spirit of this wonderful work.