Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 (1868)
Nicole Car (soprano); Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass-baritone)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestyra and Chorus/Johannes Fritzsch
rec. 29 November, 1-4 December 2010, Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank, Melbourne
German text and English translation included
ABC CLASSICS ABC 476 4811 [67:07]
The MusicWeb International Masterworks index for Brahms’ great choral work lists twenty-one recordings that we’ve reviewed over the years, including versions by many illustrious conductors. Nor is this list by any means exhaustive for there are other recordings in the catalogue which have not come to us for appraisal, chief among them the famous Klemperer EMI traversal (1961). My own leading recommendations for this work would include that Klemperer version, the wonderfully humane and dignified 1955 Kempe recording, now available on Naxos (review) and either of Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s performances (review). With many excellent recordings in the catalogue, jostling for the attention of collectors, it might be wondered whether a new version from Australia stands much chance, especially since the soprano soloist and conductor may not be widely known to the global public. However, as it turns out, this CD has much to commend it.
I’ve not previously encountered the German conductor, Johannes Fritzsch (b. 1960), so far as I can recall. He has conducting posts in both hemispheres: he’s Chief Conductor of both the Opera House and the Philharmonic Orchestra in Graz, Austria and holds a similar position with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Australia. He makes a good job of Ein deutsches Requiem. His tempi seem to me to be consistently well chosen and he obtains some very good playing from the Melbourne orchestra while their colleagues in the choir also do well. About the only qualm I had about his side of things was that in the fugue that ends the third movement, ‘Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand’, the orchestra is too prominent at the expense of choral clarity. However, I approve of the lively pace at which Fritzsch takes this section and, similarly, he keeps the music sensibly on the move during the fugal endings of the second and sixth movements. Fritzsch must also surely take a good deal of credit for the fact that the fiery segment of the sixth movement – ‘Denn es wird die Posaune schallen’- is dispatched so strongly by the choir and orchestra.
As well as a good, responsive choir and orchestra Fritzsch has two good soloists at his disposal. I’ve heard Teddy Tahu Rhodes before and I enjoyed his contributions here. He’s strong and firm of tone in the third movement and his solo work in the sixth movement displays the same virtues, though he’s not as imaginative in his use of vocal colour nor in matters of expression as the finest exponents of this role, such as Fischer-Dieskau. Soprano Nicole Car is a singer whose name I’ve not heard before. She’s a young Australian who has already, in just a few years, made something of a name for herself, it seems, in her native country, especially in opera. She has the heavenly ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ and she sings it well. The sound of her voice falls pleasingly on the ear though, perhaps, there’s just a fraction too much vibrato at times.
I don’t know if the recording was made at concerts or under studio conditions – if it’s the former then I wasn’t conscious of any “noises off”. The recorded sound is good though I found that on my equipment I had to turn up the volume control a couple of notches higher than usual to get the best results.
This performance of Ein deutsches Requiem may not shed any new light on this great masterpiece – but a performance can be successful without doing that. Equally, I can’t say it supplants the best recordings I know, as mentioned above. However, it’s a good recorded performance, which I enjoyed very much and I don’t think anyone investing in it will be disappointed.
John Quinn

A good recording of Ein deutsches Requiem even if it doesn’t shed any new light on the piece.