Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Cane
WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem
PERFORMER: Marvis Martin (soprano), Keith Spencer (baritone); University of Miami SO & Chorale/Thomas M Sleeper
CATALOGUE NO: CR-100
Brahms’s single most substantial work can currently be heard in nearly thirty recordings, and these two new ones both have something to offer, despite widely different provenances.

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Though Philippe Herreweghe made his reputation in early music, his recent discography has crept ever forwards, with oratorios by Mendelssohn, and works by Schumann and Berlioz featuring prominently. So Brahms is a natural progression, and since the composer’s own deep interest in older masters suffuses the Requiem, an early-music background comes in handy.

The singing of his combined choirs is a joy: finely schooled and immaculately balanced, yet with feeling in the tone. It took me only a few bars to get used to the vibrato-free string sound, and both conductor and sound engineers enable us to hear a maximum of orchestral detail. The soloists, too, prove well suited to their tasks.

The recording by the Miami students is also live, and if their performance cannot match Herreweghe’s in terms of neatness, the well-prepared choir produces a refined tone, the orchestra makes a decent noise (the odd moment of poor ensemble apart) and a good deal of the music’s spirit comes over.

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Thomas M Sleeper’s conducting, however, lacks flow: he seems to think in small units, losing the broader sweep of each section. The baritone, Keith Spencer, makes a couple of minor errors, but his lyric sound is attractive, while the quality of Marvis Martin’s soprano compensates for some rather short phrasing. George Hall