Brahms: A German Requiem, Op. 45

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: A German Requiem, Op. 45
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (baritone); Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury; Evgenia Rubinova, José Gallardo (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 669 4825
The first time Brahms’s Requiem was heard in this country, in July 1871, was in a London drawing-room. Conducted by Brahms’s friend Julius Stockhausen, the work was given at the house of the surgeon Sir Henry Thompson with a smallish choir in the composer’s own piano-duet arrangement, played by Lady Thomson (Kate Loder, professor of harmony at the RAM) and the aged but enthusiastic Cipriani Potter (who had known Beethoven in his time). A performance, in fact, much like this one, though probably not as note-perfect. Domestic performance of choral works wasn’t uncommon in the 19th century, when vocal quartet parties were legion – so this finely performed and recorded disc is of great interest.

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This small-scale rendering naturally enhances the strong vein of intimacy that’s already palpable in the Deutsches Requiem. ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’ emerges as the sublimated Liebeslieder Waltz one always suspected it to be.

Brahms’s piano parts are wonderfully effective in transmitting the musical substance but, shorn of orchestral colour, the emphasis is shifted to the quality and colour of the vocal writing, and the role of soprano and baritone soloists takes on an enhanced significance. Hanno Müller-Brachmann is ideally and urgently eloquent in his two solos, and Susan Gritton is refulgent and confiding in ‘Ihr hab nun traurigkeit’, Brahms’s inspired elegy for his mother.

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Throughout, the choral component is superbly sung and beautifully balanced, Stephen Cleobury directing the King’s College voices with an unerring sense of long line and the sustained building of paragraphs. There’s no other recording in this version: if you want the Requiem with full orchestra, there are many competing accounts (with Abbado, for me, still the most satisfying), but the present disc represents a modest triumph. Calum MacDonald