Brahms: A German Requiem; Begräbnisgesang, Op. 13

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: A German Requiem; Begräbnisgesang, Op. 13
PERFORMER: Lynne Dawson (soprano), Olaf Bär (baritone); Schütz Choir of London, London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54658 2 DDD
The CD catalogue is packed with good-quality recordings of Brahms’s German Requiem, reaching back to Bruno Walter and Klemperer. These two fine recordings are both sung in German. Abbado’s, taken from a live Berlin Philharmonic concert, effectively displaces Karajan’s late Vienna version: most choruses, still legato, are clearer, while the pacings are broad, if less magisterial. Orchestral details – the soaring Berlin cellos, second violins, the oboe soloist – are not submerged. Alongside Cheryl Studer, AndreasSchmidt – lighter textured than some rivals – has the technique to judge awkward vocal intervals perfectly.

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The Norrington version has unique qualities. Most importantly, it succeeds in highlighting the underlay of German Renaissance and Baroque so vital in Brahms. Norrington clearly undercuts many of Abbado’s speeds. There is more light and shade, in places a crisp staccato. Amid strong chorus build-ups (the German pronunciation occasionally a bit self-conscious), delicate instrumental detail – not always the same as that brought out by Abbado – peers through. The tuning, almost a semitone lower, here adds mellowness. I like the slightly nervy soprano solo; some might not. Olaf Bär is richly evocative. Overall, the obvious comparison is John Eliot Gardiner’s version on Philips: silkier and less audacious than Norrington, but perhaps a bit safer. Roderic Dunnett