This is the version of Brahms' famous score with piano accompaniment, and the present performance has already been reviewed twice on this site: as part of a box by John Quinn and individually here. This performance uses two pianos.
The small-scale (ten to a part) chorus is simply superb. Sopranos are spot-on with their attack high up, and balance is expertly managed. The advantage of this version is that in Brahms' magnificent fugues, every line is clearly audible in a way large forces generally cannot manage. Gone, however, is that sense of magnitude, the awe-inspiring greatness that came in response to the great text. Similarly the greatness of the sixth movement is undermined: the passage that asks “Death, where is thy victory?”. Yet, in some compensation, the clarity in the later parts of the fourth movement (“Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen”) is remarkable.
An interesting thing happens with the piano version - the emphasis on the dark lower register in the accompaniment to the first movement is entirely in accord with Brahms' own predilection for this area of the keyboard in his writing for piano solo. The result is that the whole thing sounds far more convincing than one might expect.
In the larger moments, inevitably one feels the absence of large forces acutely. Despite the beauty that Engerer and Berezovsky can bring, there is no substitute for the orchestral sweetness Brahms imparts to the mighty second movement; nor, for that matter, the way an orchestra can provide, under a fine conductor, a carefully graded crescendo up to the movement's huge climax. No matter how fine these pianists' legato is - and it is good - one needs the long lines that string players can achieve.
Stéphane Degout is a fine singer, but the accompaniment to his movement “Herr, lehre doch mich” feels threadbare and insubstantial. The response of the chorus to Degout's opening statement is nicely shaped, but lacks any real import; tension and drama later in this movement are significantly dampened, also. He is impressive again later in the sixth movement, his voice clean yet full and confident. Sandrine Piau is magnificent in her solo (when is she not?), but the piano accompaniment does rather make this sound like a rather lovely Lied with choral interjections.
The documentation is intriguing - an open-out poster-size piece of paper with all sorts of listening tips and the like, clearly intended for the newcomer to this work. I would hope, rather, that this would be seen as a supplementary version in anyone's collection, and not a primary one given the piano accompaniment. Yet that does not disavow the excellence of performance or recording. There is much enjoyment to be had here.
Previous reviews (different releases):
John Quinn ~~ John Phillips
Ein deutsches Requiem