Brahms: A German Requiem

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: A German Requiem
PERFORMER: Janet Williams (soprano), Thomas Hampson (baritone); Chicago SO & Chorus/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-92856-2 DDD
Barenboim’s German Requiem is even slower than Colin Davis’s recent Bavarian version (RCA), which itself stretched the music about as far as it will go without snapping. The second movement, in particular, can barely sustain such a slow, monotonous tread, even when played as beautifully as it is here by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. By the time the main theme returned I was already into a deep snooze. Things do improve after this, though the song of triumph over the grave in the sixth movement is all too plodding and predictable, not the thrilling climax it should be. Thomas Hampson’s two solos provide the vocal highpoint of the performance; Janet Williams is too shrill and operatic, and the normally excellent Chicago Symphony Chorus sounds ill-focused and under-powered (and sometimes a shade under the note in the sopranos).

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But then, Erato’s hazy recording does them few favours. There is nothing much wrong with the flowing fourth and slow seventh movements, but on most counts, Davis is definitely preferable. Incidentally, the coughs and splutters between movements indicate a live performance, though no reference is made to this in the documentation. Stephen Maddock