Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem
PERFORMER: Inger Dam-Jensen (soprano), Bo Skovhus (baritone); Danish National SO & Choir/Gerd Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10071
Brahms’s German Requiem, George Bernard Shaw once quipped, ‘is patiently borne only by the corpse’. But as a paid-up Wagnerite, Shaw would have felt duty-bound to be anti-Brahms; and he had probably endured some dreadfully over-solemn Victorian performances of the piece. No danger of that with Gerd Albrecht, who leads his responsive Danish Radio forces through a reading which isn’t afraid to be forceful as well as reflective. The triple-time march ‘Denn alles Fleisch’ gains greatly from this approach; and so above all does the penultimate ‘Denn wir haben hie’. This begins much faster than usual, and keeps up the momentum right to the closing fugue, in which the two climactic chains of alternate thirds and seconds rising through the orchestra sound less like giant footsteps than like flights of arrows.

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The prime recommendation surely remains John Eliot Gardiner’s groundbreaking recording with an excellent chamber choir and period-instrument orchestra, evoking not only the sound-world of the 1860s, but also that of the German Baroque motets which so influenced Brahms’s choice of Biblical texts and musical treatment. Among modern-instrument versions, Claudio Abbado’s live Berlin recording on DG boasts more powerful choral singing and better soloists than here: for Albrecht, Skovhus sounds uncomfortable in his lower register, and Dam-Jensen over-projects so that she has to break the curving opening phrase of ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ to take a breath. But some of Abbado’s more traditional tempi sound elephantine beside Albrecht’s fresh, urgent rethinking of the work – which even Shaw might, reluctantly, have admired. Anthony Burton