Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op.45 [74.25]
Felicity Lott (soprano)
David Wilson-Johnson (bass-baritone)
Roderick Elms (organ)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. Church of St-Jude-on-the Hill, Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 1990
CHANDOS CHAN10945X [74:25]
Reissued as part of the Hickox Legacy series, this is an interesting but not essential recording. It has many fine moments. Hickox was a very fine conductor, always musical, and sometimes touched by greatness, invariably with something interesting to say, and Ein deutsches Requiem is one of the master works of the nineteenth century, so any recording is likely to be welcome.
The overall tone of this performance emphasises the solemn aspects of the work. At over 74 minutes, it is among the longer performances on record, though a greyhound compared with the lugubrious recording by Solti (over 77 minutes) or the only marginally more sprightly Karajan. For comparison, Gardiner’s period instrument recording is close to 66 minutes, Rattle (not at his best) around 67 minutes and the classic Klemperer, with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau a shade over 69 minutes.
The Hickox recording has real strengths, notably in the weight and nuance of the London Symphony Chorus and the splendid solo work of David Wilson-Johnson, especially in the third movement, Herr, lehre doch mich. This movement needs a combination of both weight and drive, and the writing for chorus is demanding. Hickox was always most accomplished with choirs – from 1976, he was chorus master of the London Symphony Chorus for some years, and the rapport with the choir, by 1990 led by Stephen Westrop, is evident. The following movement, Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen, has poetry in the opening bars, followed by a beautifully gauged and hushed opening. Notice too the excellent diction and rhythmic alertness of the chorus and the fine balancing of orchestra and chorus, and the use of emphasis in the choral lines in the later passages.
Later movements demonstrate similar qualities: the opening of Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit is hushed and moving, with Felicity more artless (there’s the art!) than Schwarzkopf in the Klemperer recording. The transition to the mother’s comfort promised in the Isaiah verse at the end of the movement is movingly handled without any sense of created emotion: the love is in the music itself.
Overall, then, this is a very fine recording, despite some slight congestion at odd moments in the choral writing. It is a performance with something to say for itself beyond the routine. It will not displace the Klemperer as the go-to recording, for that has a spiritual dimension that no-one else quite touches, but that is not to denigrate so many good things to be found here. No one performance can be deemed definitive, and this one has much to give.