Brahms

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Coro
ALBUM TITLE: Ein deutsches Requiem
PERFORMER: Julie Cooper (soprano), Eamonn Dougan (bass); Gary Cooper, Christopher Glynn (piano duet); The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16050
This is the second recording to have come my way this year of the German Requiem in Brahms’s own version in which the orchestra is replaced by four hands at one piano. It was in this form that the first British performance was given, in July 1871, in the London drawing-room of the surgeon Sir Henry Thompson, conducted by Brahms’s friend Julius Stockhausen. I described the version I reviewed previously – by the Choir of King’s College Cambridge conducted by Stephen Cleobury, with Susan Gritton and Hanno Müller-Bachmann the soloists (EMI) – as ‘a modest triumph’, for it is certainly most beautifully sung and played. But I found myself yet more impressed, and certainly more moved, by this new version from The Sixteen under Harry Christophers.

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Cleobury’s modern piano sound, the King’s Chapel acoustic, the comparatively large vocal forces, essentially present the familiar German Requiem, albeit without orchestra. But Christophers, recorded in Henry Wood Hall, creates much greater intimacy – the acoustic might be a drawing room, the small number of singers makes one aware of every intermingled line. The fourth movement emerges as a celestial Liebeslieder Waltz; and the 1872 Bösendorfer, ‘in period’ almost to the year, has a quality of attack and tone-colour that makes for almost diaphanous transparency. Not that, as played by Gary Cooper and Christopher Glynn, it lacks bottom: the climaxes of the second and sixth movements are austerely appropriately weighty and austerely majestic. A triumph, creating the benchmark for this version.

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Calum MacDonald