BRAHMS (Ein) Deutsches Requiem
This is a lovely performance, sensitive to the work’s consolatory mood, free-moving and sweetly sung. There is much to be said for a performance such as Klemperer’s or John Eliot Gardiner’s which underlines Brahms’s debt to Schütz, Bach and the other great pre-classical German Protestant composers. Rattle’s reading does not obscure that debt but it stresses more the work’s roots in the new German school: to the influence, above all, of Brahms’s cherished and much mourned mentor, Robert Schumann.
This is not a period performance in the sense of attempting to conjure forth period sounds. The opening colloquy for violas and divided cellos is pure Berlin (Nikisch would have recognised the sound, as would the young Karajan). The singing is awed and reverential, with ravishing pianissimi from the superb Berlin Radio Chorus. What we have here is not authenticity of sound but authenticity of feeling and effect. I don’t remember hearing a swifter performance of the fourth movement, “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen”, or a more calming one. A flowing tempo which creates a sense of deep repose suggests that most sought-after of all qualities in an interpreter, the art that disguises art.
Throughout, Rattle strikes a shrewd balance between the work’s affective nature and its narrative power. Tempi are brisk in the two movements with baritone solo which carry much of the work’s doctrine. The great choral codas to the second, third and sixth movements are also superbly judged. In Gardiner’s performance the great double fugue which ends the third movement sounds like imitation Bach; with Rattle and the Berliners it sounds utterly Brahmsian. In the great choral peroration to the penultimate movement, space is provided for the words to tell, as Brahms clearly intends.
Thomas Quasthoff, who seems a little out of sorts, is no match for Fischer-Dieskau on Klemperer’s unignorably splendid recording; and I don’t greatly care for Dorothea Röschmann’s reedy tone and tight vibrato in “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit”. Still, the movement is so persuasively shaped that, heard in context, it, too, “speaks” to us through the sonic squall. Internal balances between choir, soloists, and orchestra are generally well judged: apt to a performance which treats this great memorial prose poem with a mixture of acumen and affection that is entirely special.