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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Anna Lucia Richter (soprano); Stephan Genz (baritone)
MDR Leipzig Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. 11-14 April 2013, Groβer Saal, Gewandhaus, Leipzig DDD
German text and English translation included
NAXOS 8.572996 [64:13]

Marin Alsop has already recorded the Brahms symphonies for Naxos, though I have only heard her account of the First (review). The symphonies were recorded with the London Philharmonic but for Ein deutsches Requiem Ms Alsop has moved to Leipzig to conduct the choir and orchestra of Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk. She conducted this work at the BBC Proms but unfortunately I missed hearing the broadcast; intriguingly, that performance was given with the period instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
For this present performance I presume the MDR orchestra, which plays very well, uses modern instruments. I don’t know if the chorus is a professional one: since it’s a radio choir that may very well be the case. Like their orchestral colleagues the choir makes a good showing: there’s a solid bass foundation; the tenors have that slightly narrow tone which one sometimes gets with German choirs - that’s not a criticism by the way; the soprano tone is bright. Above all, it’s an asset to hear the German text delivered by native German speakers.
For the most part the contribution of the choir is good. For instance, they deliver the end of the second movement, ‘Die Erlöseten des Herrn’ sturdily and energetically. Earlier in that movement the singing at ‘So seid nun geduldig’ is light and airy, helped, I’m sure, by a flowing tempo that has a distinct feel of one-in-a-bar. In the sixth movement the singing in the passage ‘Denn es wird die Posaunen schallen’ is biting and exciting. Some things are less successful. In the third movement, the wonderful short passage at ‘Ich hoffe auf Dich’ doesn’t have the necessary radiance and to my ears the tenors sound a bit strained. As a result what should be a wonderful moment of optimism is a disappointment. One other thing that bothered me was that sometimes I felt the choir wasn’t really achieving as soft a dynamic as Brahms stipulates. That’s quite noticeable, I think, at the start of the second movement and reinforced the feeling I had while listening to the first movement. However, these are details and overall there’s much to admire in the choir’s singing.
Stephan Genz is an appropriate choice as the baritone soloist in this Leipzig performance since his musical training took place in the city, including time as a chorister at St. Thomas’ Church. He’s a fine singer and he makes a good impression here except that once or twice I wondered if he was not trying too hard to sound expressive. I’ve not heard Anna Lucia Richter before. She’s a young singer (b. 1990) and the initial impression she makes in ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ is favourable for she sings with a bright silvery tone. However, as the solo unfolded I came to think that she doesn’t offer a great deal more. I hear little in the way of characterisation of the music and the tone itself lacks roundness. The bottom line, I think, is that Miss Richter has been asked to record this part too early in her career: I’d like to hear what she’ll make of it in, say, ten years’ time when her tone may well be fuller and richer and, with more experience, she can invest the music with greater meaning.
Marin Alsop’s direction of the score is very good. For the most part I found her pacing of the music to be intelligent and perceptive. I like the way she keeps the music moving forward - a nice flowing tempo for ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’, for example - and she ensures that the fugues that end some of the movements and which can sound excessively long have purposeful momentum and don’t become heavy in any way.
Overall, this is a good performance of this great work and I doubt that anyone purchasing it will be disappointed. That said, there are a good number of recordings in the catalogue that, in my experience, offer more. For instance, for not much more money you could acquire Klemperer’s great 1962 EMI recording. In that event then, judging by Rob Barnett’s review of the Alto issue, I would advise paying just a little more and getting hold of the EMI Masters issue (6783302). Klemperer’s is a version that will last you a lifetime.
John Quinn

Masterwork Index: Ein deutsches Requiem