WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay (soprano), Ludovic Tézier (baritone); Swedish Radio Choir; Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 628 6100
Now, be honest, is Natalie Dessay the first soprano you would think of casting in Brahms’s German Requiem? She of Handel, Donizetti, Offenbach and assorted mad scenes? It is the choice of soloists which lets this recording down. Despite exquisite accompanying from the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra’s woodwind soloists, Dessay sounds insecure, underpowered, and finds it difficult to sustain either tone or expression in her moment of ‘Traurigkeit’. And, if both the sadness and the comfort of her role elude her, then Ludovic Tézier’s somewhat pinched, if tautly focused, baritone also simply lacks the weight of resonance or gravitas for this work.
The fact that the performance still finds itself with three stars is entirely due to the gently transparent blend and clear articulation of the Swedish Radio Choir (despite the orchestral playing being distinctly far forward in recording balance). And to Paavo Järvi’s beautifully judged tempos and pacing, which find the natural breath and pulse of Brahms’s word setting. Whether sowing in tears or reaping in joy, whether withering as grass, or bearing the fruit of harvest’s eternity, Järvi finds and recreates the organic momentum of Brahms’s writing with compelling engagement.
There are many better cast German Requiems on record; but those which have a special place in my heart are conducted by Simon Rattle, Philippe Herreweghe and – as my still unsurpassed benchmark – Otto Klemperer. Hilary Finch