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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 (1865-1868)
Genia Kühmeier (soprano); Gerald Finley (bass)
Netherlands Radio Choir
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 20-21 September 2012, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
German text, Dutch, English, French translations included
RCO LIVE RCO15003 SACD [67:30]

Some years ago I vividly recall attending a thrilling live performance of the Brahms Second Symphony conducted by Mariss Jansons. That was given with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. I was delighted when, shortly afterwards, a splendid recording of the same symphony arrived. That was with his other orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw (review). Now we have a new live recording, also from Amsterdam, of Ein deutsches Requiem which gives further evidence of Jansons’ Brahmsian credentials.

From the outset the performance impresses. ‘Selig sind, die da Leid tragen’ is astutely paced. The choral singing is very good indeed, the choir’s sound very well focused. I appreciated the attention to detail, not least in terms of dynamics; with this choir when the marking is pp that’s what they deliver. Clearly, their chorus master, Michael Gläser, has trained them expertly. The orchestral writing is painted in dark, rich hues.

The second movement is equally successful. Jansons controls the slow and steady build-up in the march very well indeed and there’s a becoming lightness to the Etwas bewegter episode (‘So seid nun geduldig’). When the Allegro non troppo section arrives (‘Die Erlöseten des Herrn’) the music is strong and purposeful, as it should be, but I like very much the way Jansons gets the choir and orchestra to inject suspense at ‘und Schmerz und Seufzen’; that’s most imaginatively done. Later in the work, in the sixth movement there’s a similar example of his perception. The long fugue on ‘Herr, du bist würdig’ can seem a long haul indeed but not so here. On several occasions Brahms relaxes when the words ‘denn du hast alle Dinge erschaffen’ are sung. Not only does Jansons ensure the quieter dynamics are observed in these episodes – most conductors do that – but he also makes the music really lyrical in these passages. Purists may object that he slows down for these sections and it’s true that the pace slackens whereas nothing is marked in the vocal score - but I’m not complaining. Jansons’ way with the music brings variety and adds interest.

Gerald Finley represents luxury casting as the male soloist. I see he’s described as a bass but surely his voice hasn’t dropped from the baritone range? There’s no sign of that here with the high-lying passages delivered with wonderful tone. He articulates the words with evident care for the meaning and his vocal control is enviable. In a word, he’s marvellous.

I don’t believe I’ve previously heard the Austrian soprano Genia Kühmeier. She’s up against formidable competition in ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ – one thinks of Schwarzkopf, Grümmer and Popp, amongst many memorable performers of this solo on disc. I think Miss Kühmeier is admirable. Her tone is delectable from start to finish and her enunciation of the words is clear and natural. I found her performance very touching and her contribution is as fine as I’ve heard from a solo soprano in a long time.

Brahms envisaged Ein deutsches Requiem essentially as a consolation for those left behind. This concept reaches its peak in the final movement, ‘Selig sind die Toten’ and Jansons and his forces rise to the occasion memorably. In particular I was struck by the sense of mystery that is imparted in the very moving episode beginning at ‘Ja, der Geist spricht’ where Brahms’ music so marvellously enriches the import of the words themselves. This section has a wonderful atmosphere in this performance and as well as the expressive singing I admired the luminous playing of the RCO’s strings and woodwinds.

I imagine the concerts from which this recording derives made a great impression on those lucky enough to be present – there’s no audience noise, suggesting concentrated attention, and there’s no applause at the end. I’m very glad indeed that this splendid account of Ein deutsches Requiem has been preserved on disc, especially as Mariss Jansons’ time as the RCO’s Chief Conductor has just come to an end at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season – he is now their Conductor Emeritus. This is one of those performances that shows his partnership with the orchestra at its very best. There are many fine recordings of the work listed in our Masterworks Index; this distinguished account deserves to rank with the best.

The sound on this SACD is excellent. The balance between choir and orchestra has been well judged. The documentation, in four languages, is good.

John Quinn


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