WORKS: A German Requiem
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz (soprano), Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone); San Francisco SO & Chorus/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 443 771-2 DDD
George Bernard Shaw thought that listening to Brahms’s German Requiem twice was a sacrifice which should not be demanded of anyone, but its mood of heroic stoicism and telling use of archaic procedures within a personal, Romantic idiom have outlasted his barbed arrows. Nevertheless, a weak performance can make the piece sound turgid. Herbert Blomstedt’s account is marked by a restraint that borders on the inhibited. The big phrases fail to lift into the air, the fugues tend to be stocky rather than rugged, and the implacable tread of the mighty sarabande second movement has no sense of inevitability.
The San Francisco players manage some lovely solo work, while the choir’s tone is soft and grainy, their soft singing sonorous, their forte singing rich and emphatic. But they have a slight tendency to anticipate and their sibilants spread out on either side of the note they begin or end.
Both soloists are lightweights: Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz’s crystalline tone lacks the warmth or substance required, while the baritone Wolfgang Holzmair’s lyrical timbre would need to be set further forward in the recording perspective to make a proper impact. Though the sound overall has a good range, it is too homogenised, with insufficient clarity and definition, and at worst a mellow mush. George Hall