> BRAHMS Ein deutsches Requiem Abbado DVD [PQ]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1837-98)
Ein deutsches Requiem op.45 (1865-8)
Barbara Bonney (soprano), Bryn Terfel (baritone)
Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Swedish Radio Choir
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (conductor)
Recorded at the Musikverein, Vienna, 3 April 1997
TDK DVD TH 05020767 [80']


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Let’s get the stupid stuff out of the way first. This DVD has no text or translation. I looked at the menu when I first loaded the disc, then looked again, but no; TDK doesn’t even offer the original German, either in the slim booklet or as a subtitle. It can’t be a production error, as the menu screen looks properly and attractively designed, so some bright sparks in TDK’s production department need their heads bashing together if they think this is the way to sell Classical DVDs.

That said, those with German should find subtitles unnecessary as diction is good throughout. Even so, Ein deutsches Requiem isn’t the most obvious candidate for home video. There are only so many times you can watch a static line of sopranos with their mouths open, and the director also seems to have a thing about cello bows. Of course, as soon as Barbara Bonney gets up the camera knows where to go, and it stays there almost throughout 'Ich habe nun ein Traurigkeit', though the stony faced altos behind her are a bit off-putting. Terfel's voice that night had the bloom which it has lost of late, though I think he could have been even more sensitive to the text.

For myself, I could happily gaze upon the neo-Baroque glories of the Goldene Saale for 80 minutes. I’d be even happier if the camera gave Abbado more attention. He has always been one of the most expressive and attractive conductors in concert, with a balletic grace and economy to his movements that is frequently reflected in the way musicians play for him, without ever reducing his role to choreography. Every gesture tells, and if you’re a fan of Abbado’s conducting anyway, this is a must-see, if not a must-buy.

Many have never warmed to the flip side of this economy. Accusations of coolness or uninvolvement have often been levelled at Abbado (though I suspect that they result from exclusive consideration of his studio recordings, many of which are not nearly so successful as his live traversals of the same works). Even without watching the smile on his face, however, you can tell he loves this work from the way every phrase is caressed and given its own weight.

Musical and visual direction reach a particularly harmonious resolution during the transition to the final fugue of 'Herr, lehre doch mich'. We are directed from the tip of Abbado’s baton to the splendour of the Musikverein’s ceiling, panning down the Goldene Saale to reveal the panoply of performers, then to Abbado again, ever relaxed, mouthing the words and coaxing the chorus to some of the loveliest singing this demanding music has received. The whole work is, along with the Missa Solemnis, the toughest imaginable test of stamina for the chorus in the standard repertoire. It is the greatest compliment to their ability and to Abbado’s ever relaxed shoulders that after the even more involved fugue at the end of 'Denn wir haben', the sopranos are able to float their long forte line at the start of 'Selig sind die Toten' with impeccable intonation and a sure feel for the centre of the phrase.

I suspect that the veiled quality of the recording has as much to do with the Berliners sound and Abbado’s restrained approach to the piece as to any technological manipulation. I found it puzzling at first and tried unsuccessfully to twiddle knobs to give it more brightness, but quickly accustomed myself. The text itself so frequently suggests a view of death through a glass darkly, from the perspective of the living, that a feeling of being at one remove from the music is welcome in this case.

Peter Quantrill


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