Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: RCA
WORKS: Ein Deutsches Requiem
PERFORMER: Genia Kühmeier (soprano), Thomas Hampson (baritone); Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Vienna PO/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: RCA 88697720662

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Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s take on the German Requiem, perhaps surprisingly, does not align him with the ‘authenticist’ readings of Roger Norrington or John Eliot Gardiner. On the other hand, although he is here at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic, the sound, though monumental, lacks the warmth and plushness of Claudio Abbado’s superb version with the same orchestra for DG. Tempos are slow, sometimes even stolid, yet Harnoncourt achieves effects of extraordinary intensity, for example at the climax of the third-movement fugue, where the orchestral contribution sounds rough and baleful but as if hewn from granite. It’s a pity the waltz-time fourth movement is so leaden-footed.

Overall, this is an idiosyncratic interpretation. Harnoncourt’s choral effects are fussy in places – passages with a crescendo and diminuendo on every word, and sometimes over-punctuating the text: in the sixth movement’s fugue subject, ‘Herr, du bist würdig…’ he separates the ‘Herr’ so sharply from the rest of the sentence it’s as if he’d inserted a crotchet rest. But the superb Arnold Schoenberg Choir respond willingly to his every demand. Thomas Hampson is an efficient baritone soloist, but Genia Kühmeier achieves an exceptionally beautiful interpretation, both consolatory and finely-nuanced, of ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’.

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Something of a mixture, then, and I would not place it among my top recommendations for the Requiem. While I still swear by Abbado (whose soloists were Cheryl Studer and Andreas Schmidt, with the Swedish Radio Choir), Simon Rattle’s much more recent EMI version with the Berlin PO, Thomas Quasthoff and Dorothea Röschmann is pretty well as good, and the yet more recent account by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the LPO, Elizabeth Watts and Stéphane Degout (LPO Records) is also worth considering. Calum MacDonald