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Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45

4.4 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 14, 1991
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Musical settings of the Requiem understandably encompass a vast expressive gamut, from Mozart's fear and trembling to the seraphic gentleness of Fauré. But the focus in Brahms's German Requiem--his first large-scale work--is not so much on the departed as on those left behind and the work of memory. In lieu of the traditional Latin liturgy, Brahms uses texts culled from the Lutheran Bible that range from despair at our mortal condition to the solace offered by faith. John Elliott Gardiner and his forces here attempt to replicate the orchestral sound and style of Brahms's own time, using period bowing practices for the strings and mellow Viennese horns, to cite a few examples. The result is a magnificent and deeply moving performance that features excellent integration of the orchestra and chorus. Gardiner molds a huge crescendo of imposing terror in the funereal march of the second movement but always keeps the textures clear and balanced. He manages to convey both the symphonic scope of this work and its polyphonic imagination--Brahms looked back to Baroque as well as Renaissance sources and in the process created a rich and potent new style. Charlotte Margiono's rosy soprano is angelic but at the same time tinged with a sense of longing for what has been lost--which makes the musical consolation offered by the end of the seventh movement all the more profound. Baritone Rodney Gilfry brings warmth and passionate phrasing to his solos. And presiding over everything is Gardiner's masterful sense of the work's larger structure: the path traced by Brahms is revealed with great dignity but is free of sentimentality. This recording belongs in any basic collection. --Thomas May
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Product Details

  • Performer: Monteverdi Choir
  • Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner
  • Composer: J. Brahms
  • Audio CD (May 14, 1991)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Philips
  • ASIN: B00000413E
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,077 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
A performance of Brahms "free from sentimentality" is an interesting question.
And I won't pretend to be perfectly impartial to the question.
The "German Requiem" is something of an old friend. I'm a clarinetist who has served as a bass in various choruses over the years, so I have taken part in two performances of this magnificent work, alternatively as instrumentalist and singer. And before that, I was introduced to "How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place" (in English translation) in the choir of an Episcopal parish, by a director whose fondness for the piece was evident in his management of the choir that Sunday.
Probably, none of these performances was quite free from sentimentality; but my impression is that none of these performances suffered greatly from the sentiment brought to the piece, brought out of the piece. Hey, the nineteenth-century was something of an Age of Sentiment, in music. It would be dishonest and musicologically suspect to prune away all sentimentality from the music of that day.
Which is not to say that the sentimentality cannot be overdone, hideously overdone.
I am a great fan of Brahms. Love the clarinet sonatas, the symphonies, the violin concerto, the piano concerti, the solo piano music, the lieder. And especially the German Requiem.
And this is all preface to a description of Gardiner's recording of this last.
It is not excessively sentimental; which is all to the good.
Nor is it soullessly dry, which is better still.
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Format: Audio CD
Compared to the person who wrote the scathing review that lurks on these pages somewhere, I find that I have some rather positive things to say about this recording of Brahms's choral masterpiece. Firstly, unlike most recordings you hear of the piece, this recording is free of the slow, mannered Wagnerian speeds that have dogged the piece for many years. This recording, which follows Brahms's original speeds, really makes the supple melodies soar and sing out to us, yet remain sublime and heartfelt at the same time. Secondly, this recording shows a sense of commitment in everyone involved. Apart from the clean and transparent recording, the period orchestra is well-balanced and the choral singing is first-rate. Even in the solemn movement, "Denn alles Fleisch", there is a sense of seriousness and devotion throughout. But perhaps the real highlights are the soaring and lyrical "Wie lieblich sine Deine Wohungen" and the closing and comforting "Selig sind der Toten." The two soloists are first-rate, with Charlotte Margiono displaying a motherly warmth in her solo number, and Rodney Giffry making a vulnerable but submissive soloist who also sings his solos in the sixth movement with a certain hope in his voice. This is indeed a wonderful recording, and a fresh view at a masterwork that has been dogged by stodgy interpretations, and the crisp choral singing is an added plus.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase which criterion, Brahms must have been one of the Blessed. Few composers have portrayed the emotions of mortality with as much pathos as Brahms in the German Requiem, or offered such resonant consolation. Every musical detail of these seven "motets" is full of craft, yet one hardly notices the workmanship while listening, being absorbed in the poignancy. How amazing that Brahms, an atheist or at least a grim agnostic, should have composed the most potent expression of spiritual consolation of all 19th C music!

Most performances of the German Requiem are mono-dimensional, treating all seven motets with equal musical solemnity - even sanctimony - though they were not composed at the same time nor in the same spirit. Just look at the texts, which Brahms has chosen from the German translation of the Christian Bible that he acknowledged not believing! #1 - Blessed are they that mourn... #2For all flesh is as grass... #3...surely every man walks in a vain show...he heaps up riches and knows not who shall gather them... #4How lovely are thy tabernacles... #5...You see how for a little while I labor and toil... #6...the trumpet shall sound...oh death, where is thy sting... #7 Blessed are the dead... Brahms has chosen a compendium of the best poetry in the Bible, such as Walt Whitman used as the model for his great free-verse arias in Song of Myself. Every poem should have its own musical voice, from quiet resignation to defiance to exultation in mortality.

John Eliot Gardiner has achieved just such an expressive triumph of poetry, of setting the music to the words rather than vice versa, and his is the first performance I've ever heard that does so.
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Format: Audio CD
The recordings I'd like to review here are (a) John Eliot Gardiner with the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique / Monteverdi Choir (1990) [PHILIPS 432 140-2] and (b) Carlo Maria Guilini with the Vienna Philharmonic / Wiener Staatsoperchor (1988) [DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 432 574-2].
For the last twenty years John Eliot Gardiner has been associated with a rather scholarly approach to performance practice involving period instruments, obsolete tuning systems, and unusual bowings. Some argued that his approach had turned music into museum culture, thus alienating already flustered audiences; others saw in it a true revival of the music tarnished by centuries of irreverent incompetence. Gardiner's experience with the Baroque invariably comes across in the Brahms Requiem, particularly in the handling of choral polyphony modelled upon Schütz and Palestrina. Facilitated by the orchestra playing period instruments, Gardiner consciously attempts to 'free the work from the tradition of solemn, but smooth performances, by concentrating on the ruggedness of the original score.'
Carlo Maria Guilini represents an entirely different tradition, very much a Romantic one, less keen on details, concerned with thicker brush strokes and the overall Stimmung. Guilini's approach to this work is almost solely based upon its roots in the grand symphonic and choral traditions. His main fortes are the soloists Barbara Bonney and Andreas Schmidt, and an orchestra capable of producing mighty climactic textures.
The discrepancies between the performances are most discernible in the second movement 'Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras' and the sixth movement 'Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt'.
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Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
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