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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 (1865-68) [64:13]
Anna Lucia Richter (soprano); Stephen Genz (baritone)
MDR Leipzig Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. Großer Saal, Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Germany, 11-14 April 2013. DDD
NAXOS 8.572996 [64:13] 

Marin Alsop has given us very good recordings of the four Brahms symphonies with other orchestral works accompanying them. Now she concludes her series with an equally welcome account of the German Requiem. The orchestra and chorus blend well and the text comes through as clearly as on other recordings with which I am familiar. Overall, her tempos tend to be on the faster side, though according to the score she is on the mark most of the time. For example, in the second movement her brisker tempo at “So seid nun geduldig” follows the Piu animato marking in the score. I have sung the work in choirs and most directors with whom I have worked also increase the tempo here as markedly as Alsop does. Also she observes the fourth movement tempo, Con moto moderato, with the emphasis on the con moto, which again is how I am used to singing it. Other conductors, most notably Otto Klemperer in his famous recording, are much slower in those places. However, Alsop is short on drama in the second movement compared not only to Klemperer, but also to my favourite modern version: André Previn with the London Symphony on LSO Live; his second recording of the Requiem. Previn might seem an unlikely source, but his interpretation is wonderful and as Brahmsian as the best of them. His chorus and orchestra are superb as is the recorded sound. The sound on Klemperer’s recording is still very good, given its age; I haven’t heard the latest re-masterings which may be even better. No recording brings out the horns the way Klemperer’s does in the second movement, something I miss in other recordings.
 
Alsop’s soloists are variable. I really like Anna Lucia Richter, who has the pure, lyric soprano this movement calls for. Her voice is balanced well with the orchestra and chorus, although her dynamics could be softer at times. I was not taken by the baritone, Stephen Genz, however, finding his vibrato a bit shaky. No one in my opinion is better than Fischer-Dieskau on the Klemperer account, though David Wilson-Johnson for Previn is also excellent. As to the sopranos, Klemperer’s Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is an acquired taste with her covered vowels, but justly famous all the same, while Harolyn Blackwell on Previn’s LSO disc leaves little to be desired. Her voice really floats above the chorus and orchestra and she sings with expression.
 
Alsop takes the sixth movement at a true Andante, “walking” tempo unlike either Klemperer or Previn. It’s all a matter of how one interprets andante, and the earlier accounts are certainly convincing in their slower tempos. Alsop builds this movement well and incisively, and concludes the section with plenty of power - something I found a bit lacking in the second and third movements. The first and final movements of the Requiem are like bookends with the chorus dominating the orchestra. For many interpreters these two sections are close in their tempos. Alsop, however, is faster in the first movement, but slower in the seventh. Yet, it is all convincing. The timings of these movements in the three recordings I used for comparison are rather telling: I: Klemperer (9:56), Previn (9:38) and Alsop (8:46); VII: Klemperer (10:13), Previn (10:08), and Alsop (10:25).
 
Overall, Alsop’s is a fine addition to the recorded library of Brahms’ German Requiem, even if it does not replace earlier favourites. Anyone collecting her series of Brahms CDs should not hesitate. Of the three accounts in my collection, I would rate this behind Klemperer and Previn, mainly, but not exclusively, because of the baritone. Fine notes by Keith Anderson and an attractive presentation with Paul Klee’s Domestic Requiem on the booklet cover a further enhancement.
 
Leslie Wright 

See also review by John Quinn

Masterwork Index: Ein deutsches Requiem

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