Brahms

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: German Requiem
WORKS: German Requiem
PERFORMER: Sally Matthews (soprano), Christopher Maltman (baritone); London Symphony Chorus; LSO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO0748 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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As so often with Valery Gergiev these days, reactions to this performance vary intensely as it unfolds. The dark, veiled strings at the opening (Brahms with a slight Russian Orthodox accent?) are very impressive. So too is the sense of the first movement rising and falling steadily like a great arch. But the sentiments in the second movement, ‘For all flesh is as grass’, instead of inspiring suitably sombre or sinister thoughts, seem to have acted as a damper on the collective spirit. A kind of Sabbath torpor settles on the music, not to be dispelled until the closing words of consolation, where the voltage suddenly shoots upwards again. The lively tempos and articulation for the fugues in the third and sixth movements do add muscle to Brahms’s counterpoint, but then on the other hand the central ‘How lovely are thy dwellings’ feels too nervously hurried to convey any sense of lilting loveliness.

The chorus are generally good, but they do sound momentarily caught out by Gergiev’s tempo at the start of the ‘souls of the righteous’ fugue in the third movement. In the final movement there are a few slight lapses in intonation, and chorus and strings ensemble falters in the recapitulation. As for the soloists, Christopher Maltman is on fine stirring form, but Sally Matthews’s intense vibrato doesn’t offer a lot of ‘comfort’ in the fifth movement. And while the recording copes reasonably well with the notorious Barbican acoustic, there’s still a sense of airlessness in big, complex choral-orchestral passages.

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Stephen Johnson