Brahms German Requiem

Author: 
Lionel Salter

Brahms German Requiem

  • (Ein) Deutsches Requiem, 'German Requiem'
  • (Ein) Deutsches Requiem, 'German Requiem'

Unlike some other interpretations, there is nothing sentimental and little suave or mellow about this reading of the Deutsches Requiem, which presents Brahms as the vigorous 35-year- old that he then was, absorbed in the study of early German masters (particularly Schutz) and desolated first by the wretched end of his friend and benefactor Schumann and then by the death of his mother. Gardiner's performance is notable for its intensity and fervour (not mere ferocity) and for the superb singing of his choir: splendidly firm and secure attacks and phrasing, always with fine tonal quality, meticulous attention to dynamic nuances, and alertness to verbal meaning and nuance. (Listen to the basses' excellent lead at ''Die Erloseten des Herrn'' in the Allegro of the second movement, the tone of ''mit Freude'' in the first, and the treatment of the words ''Meine Seele verlangt'' in the calm fourth movement).
The other thing which strikes one is the huge dynamic range of this recording: the forte (here fortissimo) entries of the march-like ''Denn alles Fleisch'' are overwhelming—a forte first choral entry in this second movement is probably explicable by the use of a new performing edition; and the climactic build-up from (to adopt the English translation) ''At the sound of the trumpet'' to the cries of ''Death, where is thy sting?'' (in which Gardiner artfully, and with great effect, lengthens the pauses between the cries of ''Where?'') is enormously thrilling. This sixth movement, by the way, is started unusually fast, the only unorthodox tempo (despite his iconoclastic claims) Gardiner adopts in the work.
The solo baritone is a real find: an admirably focused voice with cleanly projected words and sensitive tonal gradations: if the soprano, pure-voiced and consoling, seems slightly less distinguished, it may be that she is set a trifle too far from the microphone. Pains have been taken throughout to bring out contrapuntal strands with clarity, both in the chorus and in the orchestra; and here the employment of period instruments (particularly noticeable in the case of the oboes and horns, and with the hard sticks adding extra menace to the timpani's triplets in the second movement) and of selective string vibrato proves to make a significant contribution. In the past Gardiner has sometimes been accused of minimizing the spiritual quality of religious works: that can certainly not be said of this outstanding performance.'

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