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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Elisabeth Grümmer (soprano),
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone),
Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale, Berlin/Karl Forster,
Berliner Philharmoniker/Rudolf Kempe,
rec. June 1955, Jesus Christ Church, Berlin, Germany
ÉDITIONS JADE 699 780-2 [76:53] 

Éditions Jade have released this 1955 Berlin mono recording of Ein deutsches Requiem conducted by Rudolf Kempe. This is the same performance that I have on both a 1993 digitally re-mastered CD on EMI Classics ‘References’ CDH7647052 and on a 2009 issue on Naxos 8.111342 (see reviews) re-mastered by restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn. Certainly this performance will have been released several times over the years and I can remember a friend having it on a double album 33 rpm vinyl on EMI/HMV Concert Classics Series XLP 30073/4 (c/w Bruckner Te deum). 

This, Brahms’ longest composition, is generally acknowledged as his greatest choral work. Work on the Requiem occupied him for several years. Whether it was the demise, whilst incarcerated in an asylum, of his friend and mentor Robert Schumann in 1856, or the death of his mother in 1865 or a combination of both that provided the inspiration for this masterwork is uncertain. The first performance was given at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1869. Instead of setting the customary Latin Catholic text Brahms arranged his own text mainly from the Lutheran Bible. Rather than a solemn requiem mass for the dead this is a mass to comfort the living that the dead have left behind.  

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has involvement in two movements. In the darkly hued Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord, make me to know mine end) his rich, smooth voice registers strongly and is never overpowered by the orchestra. Against the initial lighter orchestral weight in Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (Here on earth we have we no lasting home) his closely recorded voice sounds even better rising to the challenges with evident devotional respect.

There is most assured singing also from distinguished German soprano Elisabeth Grümmer in Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (Ye now are sorrowful). After listening to Fischer-Dieskau’s smooth tones it took me a while to become accustomed to Grümmer who has just as much impact although sounding brightly piercing and rather fluttery. 
The Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale, Berlin is an inspiring group able to sustain prolonged phrases, displaying an appealing tone and commendable unity. Well drilled by their chorus master Karl Forster it is hard to find fault with the choir's committed performances of the two best known movements of the Requiem both for chorus and orchestra: Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (For all flesh is as grass) and Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How lovely is thy dwelling place).

Keeping his forces tightly clasped Kempe directs a performance that is sincere and reverential. The orchestra’s assured playing balances the score’s key ingredients of strength and pathos. Overall the string sound feels warm and comforting like glowing coals in a brazier. Especially striking are the rich and resonant double basses and the cellos which provide a deep and voluminous bedrock. Dedicated playing from the wholesome brass sensibly eschews any tendency for excess and the woodwind easily pass rigorous inspection. 

It is no surprise that the sound is impressive for its near sixty year age as the Jesus Christ Church in Berlin/Dahlem has been in high demand as a recording venue. It is still extremely popular as a recording studio today. The sound quality on this Éditions Jade recording feels as if the fierce edges have been smoothed at the expense of some clarity leaving an atmospheric sound compared to the more vividly recorded Naxos issue which in truth I prefer. It may be worth noting that all the rather spare notes on this Éditions Jade release are in French only.
 
This sincere and dignified Ein deutsches Requiem is one of the finest in the catalogue and certainly justifies the praise it has accrued over the years.  

Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Ein deutsches Requiem

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