My recent experiences
of Rattle’s Brahms on disc have not been propitious. His D minor
concerto performance with Zimerman was a fitful and ultimately
disappointing reading (see review).
The fabric of indulgence and precious expressive devices which
destabilised that performance led me to fear for the Requiem.
But I must say that in this latest release, recorded live –
though as is now commonplace in these kinds of things one would
never know it – Rattle’ s command of Brahmsian rhetoric seems
to me altogether in a different league.
I would concede
that he still fails to resist an element of beautifying. There
is evidence of the cultivation of momentary beauties as early
as Selig sind die da Leid tragen. But of ancillary metrical
manipulation there is little evidence. The pacing of the whole
work, and on a paragraph by paragraph basis, is thoroughly convincing.
One can note that in Denn alles Fleisch Rattle prefers
a less dramatically etched, less rhythmically incisive, rhythmic
profile to the classic Klemperer approach. But they are in fact
not dissimilar in some respects. Rattle keeps his brass in check
here and smoothes out some of the rhythmic contrasts. But the
climaxes are splendidly presented and finely judged, Rattle
offering a less grandly consoling vision than his eminent predecessor.
In fact the choir
proves formidably attentive throughout. Its precision ensures
that lines are never muddied and that the fugal and contrapuntal
writing remains outstandingly clear. Allied to this is its obvious
and impressively instant response to Rattle’s demands. The orchestra
too is on top form, responding to the generous flow of their
conductor’s direction. The cellos and violas sound especially
In fact so much
is excellent that a recommendation could be made on Rattle’s
direction alone. However there are the soloists to consider
and that’s where I feel very much more ambivalent. I think I
understand what Thomas Quasthoff is trying to convey. His impassioned
opening paragraphs in Herr, lehre doch mich
convey frailty and the revelation of earthly vanities. But
the means by which he conveys them seem to me too mannered.
He changes vocal colour and tonal attack constantly, subjecting
the line to an unmerciful buffeting. It’s not necessary to cite
Fischer-Dieskau here – though I shall – because way back great
singers such as Herbert Janssen (for Toscanini, in English in
1943) managed to sing with the kind of noble directness that
did not imply the implacable or indeed preclude the desolate.
Quasthoff however is at least consistent, exemplifying his approach
in Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Stadt where his
quasi-Wagnerian tonal disjunctions are reprised.
is a similarly fine artist and doesn’t present this kind of
problem – but she does bring another to the mix. I find her
effortful in Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit. There’s more than
a touch of the hectoring about this kind of singing and her
tone does - more often than it should – harden. It lends her
performance a cool and distancing abrasion which I find unconsoling
– and the rapidity of her vibrato adds to a tensile approach
that similarly may not find favour.
But it would be
wrong to end thus. If one can assimilate these vocal performances
one will find Rattle’s direction powerful and intense. His is
the greatest burden and he shapes and arches the work with real
awareness. The audience, as noted earlier, is silent to what
I would consider an unnatural degree but that’s hardly a demerit.