performance, made in circumstances of unique hardship, surely
already has a place in the hearts of all lovers of Brahms’ most
radiant choral work. This was actually the first complete studio
version of Ein deutsches Requiem - the studio in question being none
other than the Grosser Saal of the
Musikverein! The first issue was on Columbia LXs however I first got to know this performance from an EMI
Références transfer; it is also currently
available on the Classica d’Oro
label. Mark Obert-Thorn’s work seems
to have the edge in transparency: try the second movement, around
the five minute mark, to hear just what the Karajan of 1947
could achieve texturally!
This is possibly
the closest Karajan got to Furtwängler
in terms of long-range thought and its realisation. His pacing
of the second, and longest, movement, “Denn alles
wie die Gras”
(“For all flesh is as grass”) is masterly. One really receives
the impression of Brahmsian vastness. In addition, he captures
the peace of “Wie
lieblich ist deine
(“How lovely is thy dwelling place”) to heart-rending effect. Accents can count, too,
though: listen to the penultimate movement, around four and
a half minutes in. Indeed this movement, too, contains some
of the great drama of the performance as the choir challenges
Death. This version of the Requiem ends with its own redemptive
force in the shape of a prayer-like “Selig sind die Toten” (“Blessed are the
dead”). Listen out for the ray of
sunshine oboe at around 3:20.
What a privilege
it is to hear the great Hans Hotter - to my mind one of the
great singers of all time - in top form. His entreaty, “Herr,
lehre doch mich”, drips with emotion.
The characteristic depth of timbre, the awareness of the text
he sings and the innate musicality are all there, supplemented
by a keen awareness of occasion. He adds real presence to the
penultimate movement, too, wherein he sings with almost transcendental
guess opinion on Schwarzkopf will be forever divided. Her voice
is instantly recognisable, her diction impeccable. She sings
with purity, and is generally steady in her number, “Ihr
habt nun Traurigkeit”.
I have to confess that if pressed to find a weakness in this
performance, Frau Schwarzkopf would be it. But many will disagree,
I am sure.
course, Karajan being Karajan, he recorded this work severally.
He is joined by Tomowa-Sintow and
van Dam - same choir, but BPO - on EMI; with Hendricks and van
Dam - same choir, and orchestra - on DG; with Battle and van
Dam on Sony DVD; and with Waechter
and Janowitz: BPO, yellow label again.
This 1947 recording remains however his supreme achievement
in this marvellous score. There may be more clarity in the internal
choral parts elsewhere, but nowhere is there the same spirit
of hope and belief.
are those, of course, who will prefer Klemperer’s more monumental approach - available
as a GROC - but there is never at any point any doubting the
greatness of Karajan’s achievement.
No texts or translations
is a bit of a black mark in this piece. You can find them
if you have not already got them from another recording in your
library. There is in any event a balancing credit note in the
form of Malcolm Walker’s exemplary
notes. Obert-Thorn adds a small note of his own, citing British
shellacs as the source.
is forever recommended. That Naxos has provided a transfer at
such price and quality zooms the recommendation in on this issue.