Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Ein deutsches Requiem
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer (soprano), Christian Gerhaher (bass); Bavarian Radio Chorus; Munich Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann


Darkness fills the auditorium of Berlin’s Philharmonie, the audience is in shadow; the predominating colours throughout are black, muted gold and funereally dark blue – visually this is a sombre Deutsches Requiem.

Even the camera-work is austere apart from a few mild essays in montage. But it’s a performance of great warmth, dignity and expressive power. Much of the visual interest is provided by the batonless Christian Thielemann, using his eyes and large, eloquent hands, almost literally shaping the music into a truly impressive edifice.

I had not previously registered him as a Brahms conductor, but it’s clear that he has an admirably clear-eyed vision of the music. In a way it’s a very traditional reading, but totally without the traditional encrustation which used to reduce the ‘Brahms sound’ to a thick brown soup.

Thielemann’s tempos are stately but never drag – the waltz-rhythms in ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnunge’ are delightful – and he has infused his performers with passion. The quite small Bavarian Radio Choir are extremely clear in their choral textures, the orchestra are on top-notch form; Christian Gerhaher expounds his texts with Fischer-Dieskau-like feeling and authority, and Christine Schäfer brings a meltingly beautiful lyric tone to ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’. The second movement’s march, the dying fall of the last movement, the architecture of the fugues are all magnificently conveyed. 


As a performance I would not place it above Abbado (DG), Rattle (EMI), or the classic Klemperer, Karajan or Kempe’s 1955 EMI recording – but it’s an account of very similar order. Extras? There are none worth speaking of, but that doesn’t detract from a very impressive account of this marvellous work. Calum MacDonald