Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 [75:49]
Agnes Giebel (soprano); Hermann Prey (baritone)
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano della RAI/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. Milan 19 February 1960. ADD
ISTITUTO DISCOGRAFICO ITALIANO IDIS 6596 [75:49]
The Brahms Requiem divides opinion in the Quinn household. I love the piece
though, if pressed, I would admit that Brahms might, with profit, have trimmed
one of two of his fugues! Mrs Quinn, on the other hand, finds it a dull and
excessively long piece. I dare not let her listen to this performance since
I fear it would reinforce all her prejudices. Indeed, this is a version that
tests even my loyalty to the work!
Sergiu Celibidache’s many admirers often praise his original approach to well-tried
works and also his quest for sheer beauty of sound and phrasing and I’m sure
they are right so to do. Unfortunately, I have to say that I find his approach
to this particular work is totally misconceived. In trying for expressiveness
he goes far too far and frequently pulls the music much further than it can
take. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if he were served by better performers
but while the orchestra is good the choir is no better than adequate. The
sopranos in particular suffer from a tendency to swoop towards notes – especially
in the first and last movements – and sometimes the pitching is what a distinguished
singer of my acquaintance would call “democratic”.
The first movement suffers from the conductor’s wish to invest every phrase
with “meaning”. Frankly, I found listening to it a trial. Matters improve
a bit in the second movement – the section beginning ‘So seid nun geduldig,
liebe Brüder’ is delicately played and sung, the music invested with a pleasing
lightness, though the pitching sounds imperfect at the end of this section.
On the other hand, earlier in the same movement, it sounds to me as if the
choir’s phrasing at ‘und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen’ is chopped up at
the expense of the line.
Hermann Prey sings well in the third movement, though I think Celibidache’s
tempo is a bit too slow – he’s better at ‘Ach, wie gar nichts’. The choir,
especially the tenors, impress with their fervour at ‘Nun Herr, wes soll ich
mich trösten?’ But then the conductor undoes that good work with an impossibly
elongated tempo at that radiant passage ‘Ich hoffe auf Dich’ – you wonder
if the choir will ever manage to get to the top of the phrase. Prey’s other
appearance is in the sixth movement. He does his best but at Celibidache’s
turgid tempo there’s no sense of drama: none, that is, until we get to ‘Denn
es wird die Posaune schallen’, which is fiery and exciting throughout that
whole stretch of music. It’s just a pity that the recorded sound recedes into
murkiness at this point.
The other soloist is the wonderful Agnes Giebel. One can only admire her breath
control in ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’. She must have been taxed by the slow
pace but she maintains the line and a lovely tone.
It may help readers to get a feel for the pacing of this performance if I
indicate comparative timings for a couple of the movements against those in
Otto Klemperer’s famous EMI recording. Celibidache takes 11:32 for the first
movement against Klemperer’s 9:56. Again, in the fifth movement Celibidache
requires 8:04 but Klemperer takes only 6:51. Klemperer’s timing for the final
movement is a ‘mere’ 10:13 while Celibidache drags the music out to 13:14.
With these variances it’s little surprise to find that the total length of
the Klemperer performance is 69:16, compared with Celibidache’s 75:49, yet
I feel no lack of space or unseemly haste in Klemperer’s noble reading.
I don’t think I need go on. There are parts of this work where I admire Celibidache’s
approach but, sadly, these are more than outweighed by misconceived or, frankly,
perverse interpretative decisions. The recorded sound is not very good and,
in all honesty, I think this is an historic performance that should have been
left in the vaults. The documentation is woefully inadequate.
Admirers of this conductor may well wish to investigate this performance though
they may feel it does little for his reputation. For myself, life is too short
for me to wish to spend time hearing it again.
An historic performance that should have been left in the vaults.