LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Alto Rhapsody; Schicksalslied; Nänie; Gesang der Parzen; Marienlieder
PERFORMER: Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto); Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61201 2 DDD
Colin Davis’s Brahms is firmly of the old school. There’s no hint here of the Requiem’s debt to earlier German music (such as Schütz and Bach, of whom the young Brahms was so fond), which motivates the recent Gardiner and Norrington recordings. Instead we have the well-blended orchestral sound and full-bodied choral singing traditionally associated with this work. Tempi are very broad, not least in the second movement, which here sounds too funereal and insufficiently menacing; otherwise the music flows well, even at these slow speeds.
The two soloists make useful contributions: Bryn Terfel is as firm and intelligent as ever, and Angela Maria Blasi also does well, though her habit of attacking notes from below will not appeal to everyone. The sopranos of the Bavarian chorus don’t always articulate their words terribly well, but the choral singing throughout is nevertheless highly impressive.
Even better is Davis’s companion disc of shorter Brahms works with the same forces. I enjoyed it rather more than Abbado’s recent accounts of four of the pieces: his Berlin choirs were no match for the excellent Bavarians, and the muddy DG recording did not help. Davis also secures quite superb orchestral playing, including a meltingly beautiful oboe solo at the start of Nänie. Nathalie Stutzmann’s rich contralto is ideal casting for the Alto Rhapsody, though she sometimes swallows the text in order to achieve a piano at the top of her range. Full marks for including the Marienlieder, early a cappella settings in praise of Mary: simple but effective, and lovingly performed. Stephen Maddock