Brahms • Schütz

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms/Schütz
LABELS: Soli Deo Gloria
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms • Schütz
WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem; Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen; Selig sind die Toten
PERFORMER: Katharine Fuge (soprano), Matthew Brook (bass-baritone); Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique; Monteverdi Choir/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: SDG 706

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John Eliot Gardiner’s 1991 Philips recording of Brahms’s German Requiem, with essentially the same forces as here, was rightly recognised as a turning point in the work’s interpretation. It is one of the classic versions of its time. Now he revisits the work (in live performances from 2007 and 2008) for the final release in his thought-provoking Brahms series for Soli Deo Gloria. It sets the composer’s major works in the context of recent or much earlier predecessors, whose example had profoundly affected his music. Here the Brahms is paired with Schütz’s marvellous settings, from his 1636 Musikalische Exequien, of two of the core texts in the German Requiem. Brahms likely knew these Schütz pieces, exquisitely sung here.

The recorded sound has great immediacy, and the chorus produces a beautifully sustained and richly coloured vocal tone. Gardiner’s flexibility in tempo, phrasing and dynamics (which Brahms favoured) pays dividends. Tempos often feel faster than in the Philips performance, notably in a swift and dynamic account of the second movement’s ‘Die Erlöseten des Herrn’ and in ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’, where Matthew Brook’s dark-hued baritone is excellent for the role; the movement as a whole builds to an almost overwhelming climax. After a notably seraphic account of the fourth movement, Katharine Fuge’s fresh, youthful voice adds a piercing pathos to ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’. The only movement that I have doubts about is the final ‘Selig sind die Toten’, which seems almost rushed (though in fact it’s longer than in the Philips performance). It sounds too matter-of-fact for the splendours that precede it.

On balance, this is clearly a highly competitive version of the Requiem, although I still prefer Claudio Abbado (DG). Simon Rattle’s more recent EMI version – with the Berlin Philharmonic, bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff and soprano Dorothea Röschmann – is also a strong contender.

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Calum MacDonald