WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Stéphane Degout (baritone); LPO & Choir/ Yannick Nézet-Séguin
CATALOGUE NO: LPO 0045
The French Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin had been appointed the LPO’s Principal Guest Conductor when he directed this much-lauded performance of the Brahms German Requiem in the Festival Hall in April 2009. It’s an extraordinary interpretation: for one thing, at least in the first two movements, it must be the slowest account I’ve ever heard.
When one thinks of slow-paced, massively majestic interpretations one thinks of Otto Klemperer, whose classic 1962 recording, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, has just been reissued (EMI 965 9252) – but Klemperer sounds positively sprightly beside Nézet-Séguin. The Canadian’s ‘Selig sind’ is over two minutes slower, his ‘Denn alles fleisch’ even more so. Since we are pretty certain that Brahms himself took much faster speeds than this, such an approach seems a mite wrong-headed.
Yet, to be fair, the effect is neither glacial nor too ponderous, but a passionate interpretation of burning sincerity, distinguished by superbly-sustained choral singing and orchestral playing.
There are certainly places in the second movement where all sense of the underlying march-motion disappears in a miasma of tone, however Nézet-Séguin manages to impose his vision of the piece to such an extent that the moderate pace of the sixth-movement fugue doesn’t disturb, and the immensely drawn-out concluding ‘Selig Sind’ feels very satisfying.
Elizabeth Watts and Stéphane Degout sing the solo roles excellently (though Fischer-Dieskau remains unrivalled in this work). Not an interpretation I would listen to often, but one with qualities of its own. Calum MacDonald