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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op.45 (66:30)
Valentina Farcas (soprano), Matthias Goerne (baritone)
State Choir Latvia
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Paavo Järvi
rec. live, 10 April 2018, Bremen Cathedral, Germany
Picture format 16:9; Sound formats PCM stereo and DTS HD MA 5.0.
Subtitles; German, English, Japanese, Korean. Reviewed in surround sound.
All regions
C MAJOR 753304 Blu-ray [71 mins]

This Brahms Requiem from Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen was filmed live on 10th April 2018 in Bremen Cathedral, where the composer led the premiere exactly 150 years before on that same day in 1868. That was a six-movement version, before Brahms had written what is now the fifth movement. The performance here is of the final version of seven movements and using similar sized forces as the composer had. Not that many more could have been accommodated in the space, to judge from the crowded platform. The strings number and there are two harps (there is one part but the score specifies two instruments as a minimum).

Given the occasion it is surprising that Paavo Järvi uses a group of compatriots, the small professional State Choir of Latvia, rather than a German group for a work called “A German Requiem”. (He used the Deutscher Kammerchor, a professional chamber choir also, for his disc of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with this same orchestra). Still, the Latvians acquit themselves pretty well, though at times one misses some weight of tone particularly from the men compared to a larger choral body. They are helped of course by the acoustic of a large ecclesiastical building, sounding seraphic when required as at the start of the final movement. They take care of the words too, and are fairly spick and span in most of the fugal entries.

Järvi is fairly swift in his treatment, which is preferable to the dirge that can afflict some performances of this work. Some perhaps might find him slightly unfeeling at times when a little more tenderness might be expected. But Herreweghe’s Harmoni Mundi live 1996 CD, a long-established recommendation, takes 66:15, very close to the timing here. Järvi faithfully observes the dynamic markings, making a very clear distinction between the piano for the opening ”Selig sind” at the outset and the pp for its reprise. The conductor and his modest forces still pack a punch in the weightier moments, again aided by the reverberant acoustic. That same acoustic drains some detail from the more complex contrapuntal textures, but as caught in the blu-ray surround sound it is certainly atmospheric.

The third movement is the outstanding highlight of this performance, thanks to the sublimity of Matthias Goerne’s singing of the Psalm 39 text (“Lord make me to know mine end”). The firm focus of his glorious tone from the outset, his supple control of line, and the intense expressiveness of his penitential manner, make this as moving an account as I know. If Valentina Farcas cannot quite match that, her phrasing and legato are admirable given that this fifth movement (“How amiable are thy tabernacles”) is taken swifter than others she would have experienced one imagines.

The filming is effective, with some nice shots of the long nave as well as details of the cathedral stonework and wood carvings. There are no extras on the disc, and just the usual cursory booklet notes. Filmed accounts of the German Requiem include ones conducted by Karajan, Abbado, Thielemann and Welser-Möst, though they are not strictly comparable with this chamber orchestra version, with its sense of occasion.

There was a nice tradition with a connection to Bremen cathedral. When a man reached the age of 30 and was not married, he had to sweep the cathedral steps until a young woman kissed him and thus released from that obligation. There is no record of the bachelor Brahms, 35 when this work was first performed there, having to do this penance!

Roy Westbrook

Previous review: Robert Cummings

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