on July 14, 2007
You're not going to hear a better rendition of the Brahms Requiem than this one. Other reviewers have provided excellent insights. What I especially liked was the true-to-the-score performance by Barbara Bonney, without the embellishment and showboating that sopranos seem to be compelled to add. Baritone Bryn Terfel has an amazingly resonant voice. There's not a single musical flaw in this performance. Even though Maestro Abbado chooses not to augment the bass violins with organ bass as Roger Wagner does in his audio recordings, the recording has plenty of bottom. The video editing is excellent. Between movements, as one reviewer pointed out, there's the usual audience coughing; but listen for the long, perfect silence after the last note, before the applause begins.
on January 24, 2008
I have been in love with Brahms German Requiem for more than 25 years now, since I had the wonderful opportunity to perform the baritone part in the choir of my high school. Even though I do believe that this requiem cannot be considered as one of the most popular or well known amongst other requiems (ex. Mozart, Verdi and others), to me it seems certainly to be the most grateful in terms of choir interpretation. It's lovely, it's beautiful, it is rather a comforting requiem than a scaring death mass. The interpretation on this DVD, conducted by Claudio Abbado, is very precise and emotionally well tempered in terms of both its orchestral and choir performance. A special credit, in my opinion, belongs to solo baritone Bryn Terfel (I haven't known this artist before) who does an excellent interpretation. The technical quality (2 channels only) is nice and clear, for my personal taste the mastering could be a litte more forward oriented. Concluding, I can certainly recommend this DVD to everybody who is interested in getting to know the Brahms Requiem or to whom simply wants to close the eyes and sing along with the artists.
on January 10, 2012
Personal, practical reasons:
1) My best speakers and other sound equipment are wired to my "home theater" system for watching/hearing operas. Besides, the sound quality on DVDs is often truer than on older CDs. The sound quality on this DVD, I'm gratified to report, is very well balanced and undistorted. Large choirs are the hardest musical entities to record satisfactorily, but in this case, the choir sounds unmistakably human.
2) I took my wife to a live performance of 'Ein Deutsches Requiem" last fall, upon learning that she'd never heard it. She was in awe, though that performance wasn't as excellent as this one. She doesn't understand German, so the subtitles are of interest for her, as they might be for many others. The texts Brahms set in this Requiem are not the standard Latin liturgical pleas for intercession; they are Brahms's own extractions from the German Bible. But they are not unimportant; they're the key to the affect of Brahms's music.
1) "Ein Deutsches Requiem" is my choice for the single most affective composition of the Romantic Era, "indispensable" music that I can never hear too often and can always hear as 'new' in any strong interpretation. This performance -- again I'm gratified to report -- is beautifully balanced and tranquil, as it should be in its essentially 'consolatory' mood.
2) Claudio Abbado is the craftiest "conductor per se" of our lifetimes, intensely disciplined and disciplining. His baton is the easiest to read and obey of any conductor's I've watched. It's extremely interesting to observe him in action; with Abbado, what you hear is precisely what he wants you to hear. In fact, I wish the DVD had focused even more on him and bothered less with camera-panning the architectural splendors of the Musikverein in Vienna. I don't mean to anoint Abbado as the "greatest interpreter" of this work; that would be a matter of taste, especially in a live concert. But his clarity serves well for recording.
3) Clarity is also the virtue of the Berliner Philharmoniker under Abbado's baton. Had he summoned them to a more aggressive romantic performance, they could have responded. But Abbado doesn't need to over-interpret. The subtle contrapuntal complexities and expressive instrumentations of the Requiem are rewarding enough without bombast, as long as the orchestral colors are transparent enough for them to be heard.
4) The soloists for this recording were Bryn Terfel and Barbara Bonney. Enough said.
5) The combined voices of the Swedish Radio Choir and the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir were as disciplined as the orchestra and as responsive to Abbado's baton. The coherence of the choir is the most important limiting factor in an performance of the Requiem, live or recorded. If the choir is turgid or ragged, the music will fail. In this case, it probably helped that all those Swedes had the same diction -- the same vowels especially. Whatever the reason, their tuning is superb, their "ensemble" is tight, and their timbres are thrilling.
Nothing really essential, but nothing annoying or distracting either. As an instrumentalist, I would have bribed the editor to spend more footage on the orchestra, to nestle up to the instrumentalists so that I could observe their embouchures and their fingerings, but there's enough of that to satisfy most other viewers. The singers are Swedish; don't expect a lot of facial drama. Claudio Abbado was born in 1933; in 1997, when this performance was filmed, he looked tired and frail ... and yet in 2011 he was still conducting, having recanted several retirements. Watch his hands, not his face!
Brahms was not a believer in the Christian dogma of the Resurrection, certainly not in his later years, though perhaps not yet an avowed atheist when he wrote his Requiem at age thirty-three. Just as Spinoza or Mahler was a "cultural" Jew, Brahms was a "cultural Christian". Christian language and Christian music were the matrix within which he communicated musically. I'd call myself a "cultural Christian" on the same basis, though I'm far from enthusiastic about the role religion is playing in the world today. But Death confronts and perturbs the faithful and faithless alike, and the image of a resurrection and a reunion of souls is emotionally powerful in the minds even of those who rationally reject the possibility. It's often been suggested that Brahms composed his Requiem in response to the deaths of his Mother and his mentor/friend Robert Schumann. Something of my own experience makes me want to believe that notion.
on November 4, 2007
An extraordinary and moving performance. I'm a member of the Phoenix Symphony Chorus and we performed this piece (along with the Phoenix Symphony) in the fall of '07. I must admit, I was a bit bored with the piece in the months preceding the performance, having done it some years ago. Yet this DVD performance captures the passion of the work. At times I was moved to tears. It was a wonderful gift and enhanced my enjoyment and delivery during our performances....
Aside from the excellent performance on the DVD, there is the simple yet powerful enhancement of enabling the English subtitles. They are not obtrusive and add a wonderful depth to the experience. I think orchestras should borrow a page from opera and project the lyrics during the performance. Simply printing them in the program is not enough...
on April 3, 2008
This DVD of the Requiem,recorded live in 1992 and released in 1993 by Deutsche Grammophon with the Swedish Radio Chorus, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Cheryl Studer (soprano), Andreas Schmidt (bass-baritone), is of excellent quality. The image and the sound are superb. It is like being right there in the concert hall. A very pleasant interpretation, thrilling at times, moving at others.
on April 19, 2009
Technially accomplished-- but too "routine", too "laid-back". (What has happened to Abbado in recent years?)
The "Alles fleish ist wie grass" does not have the fatalistic intensity it requires-- does not build to the intensity I expect in this section.
But-- Bryn Terfel's work seems almost definitive: the sheer beauty and power of his voice and his musical choices in "Lehre doch mich" are matchless (surpassing, I think, even Fischer-Dieskau).
The camera lingers far too much on near close-ups of choir members. Unnecessary and distracting. The camera needs to pull back, especially at key moments, to view the orchestra in full.
Finally, this was not the emotional experience it should be. It is not easy music to perform convincingly, but Abbado gave what I would call a "secularist" version of this work. Not at all convincing.