Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem (in English)

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem (in English)
PERFORMER: Janice Chandler (soprano), Nathan Gunn (baritone); Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Utah Symphony/Craig Jessop
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80501
In opera, everyone can benefit from a sensitive translation: for performers it can add interpretative depth, for audiences it gives access to the intricacies of the plot. Where the concert choral repertoire is concerned, the market these days – perhaps reacting against a host of flowery 19th-century translations – is far less developed. According to the booklet notes, the motivation for the late Robert Shaw’s ‘English adaptation’ of Brahms’s German Requiem was to parallel the composer’s aim of writing a Requiem ‘in the living language of his time and society’. As the basis for his version he selected the King James Bible on the grounds that no newer translations have ‘challenged’ its beauty – doubtless true, but a touch paradoxical given his original intention.

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In solo passages the immediacy of the words in English is quite striking; in the choral sections, which make up the majority of the work, the impact is much less forceful. There is no doubting the fervour of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but its diction is often less than clear and quite frequently individual lines are fragmented by the prevalent, full-throated vibrato and some less than unanimous intonation. More damagingly, the urgency and drama of Brahms’s settings tend to falter in the face of the choir’s overly reverential tone. Much in the manner of Shaw himself, Craig Jessop’s reading is broadly conceived, but ultimately the emotional impact is curiously muted. Jan Smaczny