Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

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WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem
PERFORMER: Sandrine Piau (soprano), Stéphane Degout (baritone), Brigitte Engerer, Boris Berezovsky (piano); Accentus/ Laurence Equilbey
The so-called ‘London version’ of Brahms’s German Requiem is a reduction of the chorus-and-orchestra original for piano duet (with or without the voices), made by Brahms himself and published in 1869, around the time of the work’s premiere. Its first known use was at a private concert in Wimpole Street in 1871, the Requiem’s first British performance. Is it really worth having this essentially functional arrangement on disc? Perhaps, if the reduced accompaniment allows the work to be sung by a chamber choir as beautifully smooth and well-blended (and as well-recorded) as the French group Accentus, and if it enables such fine singers as Sandrine Piau and the promising young Stéphane Degout to project their solo lines with ease. But, even though the piano duet part is thinned out and spread over two pianos, the excellent Brigitte Engerer and Boris Berezovsky can’t prevent it sounding muddy where the original orchestra is sombre, strident where the orchestration is powerful, and feeble in representing such sonorities as timpani rolls, string tremolandos and sustained woodwind harmonies. On Opus 111’s rival recording of this version, Christoph Spering’s accomplished Chorus Musicus Köln makes more expressive use of the German text, an 1850s Blüthner lightens the textures, and Soile Isokoski is a dream of a soprano soloist. But the prime recommendation must be of a full version: Abbado (DG) or the recent Albrecht (Chandos) for traditionalists; John Eliot Gardiner for the revelations offered by the combination of another superb chamber choir and first-rate soloists, with instruments of Brahms’s time. Anthony Burton