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Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 (London version) (1869)
Sandrine Piau (soprano), Stephane Degaut (baritone)
Brigitte Engerer and Boris Berezovsky (pianos)
Accentus/Laurence Equilbey.
recorded in the Cite de la musique in Paris in June and July 2003. DDD.
NAIVE V 4956 [64’54"]

Here is something a little different. This is a French recording of Brahms’ arrangement of the German Requiem. This is for piano duet instead of full orchestra and is known as the ‘London’ version. It was arranged for voices and piano by Brahms at the request of his publisher Rieter-Beidermann in Leipzig. This was primarily so that the work could be performed privately in homes and so allow the music-loving public access to the score in a playable format. The full work had been premiered in stages, various movements and groups of movements being performed as they were finished by the composer between 1861 and 1869. This current edition first saw the light of day in 1869, and is no mere reduction of the orchestral score. Brahms, in some passages, had re-emphasised the balances to suit the lower volumes and different textures of the piano compared with full orchestra.

The performance here recorded is by the young French Chamber Choir called Accentus, formed by its Music Director, Laurence Equilbey in 1991. It is a choir of young professional musicians numbering 32. They have the intention of performing a capella music in chamber choir formation. Laurence Equilbey studied in Paris, Vienna and Stockholm and was trained primarily by Eric Ericson in Stockholm. Ericson is the choir’s guest conductor. This ensemble has appeared throughout Europe at different festivals and has performed extensively with Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain. Its initial CD releases have been very well received throughout Europe and this, its fifth and most substantial disc, is well up with the previous releases.

I have loved the Brahms Requiem in its orchestral guise for over forty years. I must admit that I approached this release somewhat guardedly, as my initial thought was that a piano reduction would be a very pale replica of the original. How wrong I was. I found this performance every bit as involving as the best orchestral versions and anyone approaching this issue with trepidation need not be concerned. My second concern, admittedly a prejudice, was that of the poor discipline of French ensembles. There is no need for concern here either, and the blending of the fresh young voices is a constant delight, as is the highly disciplined singing, making Brahms’s masterpiece glow anew. The other young contingent is to be found in the soloists, Sandrine Piau and Stephan Degout.

Sandrine Piau is relatively little known on the international circuit, having concentrated primarily in the baroque areas and concentrating on Handel. Here she sings the heavier Brahms work to perfection. I expect that all newcomers to this recording will be entranced as I was. Not to be outdone, the baritone soloist has more to do and Stephan Degout handles his task with mighty aplomb. Perhaps not yet with the surety of Fischer-Dieskau with Klemperer but with a fullness of tone, which I am sure will be enjoyed by all.

The pianists, Brigitte Engerer and Boris Berezovsky are absolutely first-rate and well caught by the recording. Rather than have the four hands on one piano as written by the composer, the separate piano parts are each handled by one instrument. They are located to the left and right of the conductor with the choir and soloists behind.

This recording has been sponsored by France Telecom in their programme of support of young vocal musicians and it gives me much pleasure to be able to thoroughly recommend this, the latest from their sponsorship.

John Phillips

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