While Daniel Barenboim's style has seemed not much to change
over his long career; he has indeed grown musically. In this
recording of Ein deutsches Requiem, he's modified the
more egregious choral effects and other distractions of his
early-1970s DG account. The Chicago orchestra - "his" orchestra
at the time of the sessions - responds with more assurance than
did the London Philharmonic. The homophonic passages, like the
full-throated recap of Denn alles Fleisch at 9:48, come
off well, with impressive presence and tonal mass.
Elsewhere, however, the results are spotty, sometimes because
the conductor's conceptions remain overly self-conscious. The
first part of Denn alles Fleisch, for all its emotional
restraint, primarily seems to be about maintaining an artificially
slow tempo. While the concluding Selig sind die Toten
sounds flowing enough, the choral sopranos sound laboured moving
from note to note.
Another problem, which mightn't seem like one offhand, is that
Barenboim focuses on eliciting the distinct character of each
musical episode. In the larger-scaled movements, this comes
at the cost of long-term coherence. Even when the idea is right,
the music ends up sounding padded and discursive. The sixth
movement, Denn wir haben, goes with a steady tread, drawing
mystery from its in-between dynamics, yet it feels one fugue
Then there's the matter of Barenboim's beat. After his early
solo piano career, he arrived on the world's major podiums with
perhaps more musical ambition than real technique. Even now,
his baton signals can fall short in terms of flexibility and
simple clarity. There's no other good explanation for the woodwinds'
not being together at the close of Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit.
Transitions, particularly those involving the timpani - as in
the setup for the outburst at 3.30 of Denn alles Fleisch
and going into the final cadence of Herr, lehre doch mich
- can be rhythmically stiff, or clumsy. The brass-and-drum interjections
into Herr, lehre doch mich are soggy thuds. The intrusion
of orchestral fragments into the leisurely choral textures of
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen sounds awkward.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Barenboim has consistently favored
a faux-Furtwänglerian inattention to discipline,
reflected in blunted contours and textures. To emulate Furtwängler,
as with any other great artist, is easier said than done. Rather
than imitating externals like his unclear beat, it might have
been more productive to study the musical insights which led
the older artist to conduct so. The fallacy that precision is
"cold", while a measure of laissez-faire looseness is
somehow ipso facto more expressive, while common, isn't
supported by any particular evidence.
Thus, while the first movement's oboe solo, for example, is
beautifully played on each appearance, the strings' pulsing
eighth-notes beneath it are mushy, holding things back where
a crisper rendition would have maintained tension and motion.
The same is true for the sagging triplets under the chorus beginning
at 2:04 of Herr, lehre doch mich. The effect is unsatisfying.
The singing doesn't swing matters either way. Thomas Hampson
is sensitive in Herr, lehre doch mich, but one wants
the climaxes to roll out more resonantly, and the heady mix
in the middle section to have firmer support. He finds a nice
recitative-like narrative delivery for the start of Denn
wir haben, but bluster creeps in as he becomes more demonstrative.
While Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit doesn't sound "too slow",
it's certainly too slow for Janet Williams. The top lacks ease
or float and is sometimes strained, and there's an invasive
flutter. Only the brief minore passage at 4:43, where
she sings more solidly, suggests the intent.
The beautiful, full sound of the Margaret Hillis-trained chorus
is an asset, but they, too, can be uncertain about where the
beat is landing, sometimes - as in the opening movement - artfully
smudging their consonant articulations to conceal it. The choristers
tend to "sing notes" in Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen
and Selig sind die Toten, losing the long musical line
- another sign of insecurity. In the fugue in Herr, lehre
doch mich, the individual parts are clear enough, but each
section withdraws too readily after intoning the subject.
For all my cavils about detail, Barenboim does give a respectable
idea of the power and weight of the score. Still, if you want
to hear what this music could sound like in Chicago, turn to
Solti (Decca), with a clean, burnished orchestral sonority.
The outstanding Hillis-trained chorus, which doesn't have to
fake clarity. Paradoxically the Solti recording also evinces
a more authentic Innigkeit. Among the "classic" recordings,
Klemperer's (EMI) achieves the right gravitas without
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach,