Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 (1868)
Solveig Kringelborn (soprano); Mariusz Kwiecien (baritone)
Swedish Radio Choir; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Valéry Gergiev.
rec. live, de Doelen Concert Hall, Rotterdam, 25 May 2008. DDD
Region 0. NTSC. 16:9. Stereo. Linear PCM.
BIS DVD-1750 [79:20]

Bit of a shock to the system to see Gergiev on BIS, but here he is courtesy of his affiliation with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. In fact, this was an historic concert in the history of that orchestra, for it marked the close of Gergiev’s tenure as principal conductor, a post he had held since 1995. A lasting legacy of this partnership is the Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival.

The Swedish Radio Choir is a splendid group of singers, trained to be perfectly balanced in pianissimo (“Selig sind”), and able to lighten its tone wonderfully (the fourth movement, “Wie lieblich sind”) as well as provide plenty of punch in climaxes. Gergiev’s pacing, too, is carefully considered. Having heard Gergiev many times live, I am acutely aware that he can disappoint as effectively as he can impress. Thankfully, this is one of the latter occasions. The ability to hear and pace in the longer term is crucial to the extended second movement, “Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras”, and Gergiev’s sculpting of the climaxes is beyond reproach. The sudden arrival of “Aber des Herrn Wort” is undervalued, though. The same thing can hardly be said of the apocalyptic choral demands of “Tod, wo ist dein Stachel? Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?” (Death, where is thy sting? Grave, whee is thy victory?), a massively confident challenge to Death itself.

The young Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien creates a beautifully rounded sound in his “Herr, lehre doch mich”, yet he also conveys the element of urgent prayer implicit in the text. Beauty of sound is also in evidence from the ladies of the Swedish Radio Choir towards the end of this movement, a purity that seems entirely apt in context. Kwiecien has the large sound required to bring off the heftier parts of the penultimate movement, too (“Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Stadt”).

The clear highlight of the performance, though, is Solveig Kringelborn’s reading of her solo movement, “Ihr habt nur Traurigkeit”, a remarkably pure yet utterly heartfelt delivery of the touching text.

All the familiar elements of Gergiev’s conducting are there, from fluttering hands to circular beats. Parts of his Deutsches Requiem are positively incendiary, something that here functions to highlight the more reflective passages. This is a remarkably involving reading, more of a dramatic journey than most. The end of the journey is the tender “Selig sind die Toten”, a mirror image of the first movement in many ways.

Camera work is serviceable if, on occasion, quite random as to what instrument(s) we see and when. Occasionally a moving head might intervene, briefly, between camera and main subject.

There don’t appear to be any subtitling options available, so an on-screen translation of the text is out of reach. The text and English translation is provided at the back of the booklet.

Well worth experiencing. The circumstances of performance – Gergiev’s departure from Rotterdam – clearly inspired all present to give all of themselves.

Colin Clarke