Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Ein Deutsches Requiem Op. 45 (1857-68) Richard WAGNER(1813-1883) Götterdämmerung(1876) – Siegfried's Rhine
Journey Tristan und Isolde(1865) – Prelude; Liebestod Evelyn
Lear (soprano); Thomas Stewart (baritone)
Orchestre Philharmonique et Choeurs de l'ORTF/Karl Richter (Brahms), Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
rec. Salle Playel, Paris, 4 April 1964 (Brahms); Paris, 20 June 1965 (Wagner).
DVD 9.4:3 Black and White. NTSC EMI CLASSIC ARCHIVE DVB 38846093 [102:48]
This is an interesting DVD,
although by no means the star pick of the EMI Classic Archive
series. Yet before I get to the music itself, it is worthwhile
discussing the presentation. Inside the DVD box is a folded
insert, with a tiny directive at the bottom to visit a website
for a four-language introduction to the programme. Not everyone
is web-compliant, so there will be purchasers left out in
the cold, especially as this is only revealed once one gets
inside the product - most shops use shrink-wrap to protect
the boxes these days. When the disc finally gets inside the
machine, you may notice there are no subtitles for the German
text of the Requiem - in the original language or
otherwise. Nor are these included in the web essay alluded
Nevertheless, there is enough
here to justify a purchase. At the time of performance, we
are told, the German Requiem was relatively little
known in France. Evelyn Lear, on the other hand, was very
well known for her performances in Berg's Lulu! Things
begin rather inauspiciously with an awkward camera zoom to
the cellos and a rather dark picture; yet the shots of Karl
Richter, with his very eloquent, clear beat, are most instructive.
Furthermore, Richter captures the autumnal nature of the
first movement to perfection.
The unstoppable tread of 'Denn
alles Fleisch' is very well handled, with Richter's grasp
of the movement's structure to the fore. The tempo moves,
yet the mood is portentous; the late fugue is grand in style
- although the men could sing out more.
Surprisingly, Thomas Stewart
is rather lacking in vocal depth. You notice it less if you
watch him, for his bearing is properly noble. One needs a
Hans Hotter here, really. Some truly dramatic orchestral
interjections later mitigate some congestion and scrappy
If there is one reason to acquire
this Requiem it is the radiant soprano of Evelyn Lear. She
is nothing short of miraculous in her purity. Her voice has
a slightly bright edge, yet she can open out her tone to
deliver real emotion.
The three sections of the sixth
movement are tracked as one single entity. Stewart excels
himself here and it is the chorus that disappoints when it
asks 'Death, where is thy victory?', showing a distinct lack
of defiance. The finale contains an unfortunate brass split
close to the end.
The fillers are actually more
interesting than the main fare on this occasion. A distinguished-looking
Schmidt-Isserstedt conducts Wagner to an empty hall. It is
fascinating to watch his large yet expressive beat encouraging
his players towards a huge climax and keeping the tension
through Wagner's charged rests. The Tristan excerpts
fare just as well. The Prelude is sensitively, even lovingly,
phrased by the strings. The picture threatens to darken out
on occasion, but it is worth persevering. Ensemble is not
as tight as it could be at the opening of the - orchestra
only - Liebestod, but it too is worth hearing for some beautifully
warm-toned brass chording and a sense of unhurried radiance.
The question, then, is where
one's priorities lie. If they are to hear Evelyn Lear, the
choice is clear; ditto Schmidt-Isserstedt in Wagner. But
if one wishes to experience revelatory Brahms, perhaps it
would be better to look elsewhere.
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