A cultured vision of a difficult Brahms

Paavo Järvi leads a warm, reassuringly old fashioned performance of Brahms' tricky 'German Requiem'.

Composer: Brahms
Repertoire:  Ein Deutsches Requiem
Artists: Natalie Dessay (sop), Ludovic Tézier (bar), Swedish Radio Choir, Frankfurt Radio SO/ Paavo Järvi
Rating:  4/5
Genre: Choral
Label: Virgin Classic S6286100

The Music: Brahms began his ‘German Requiem’ a few months after his mother’s death in February 1865. The composer retrieved an existing idea to create the work’s second movement and crafted six others over the next four years to words from the Lutheran Bible. Brahms confessed that he would have readily re-titled his piece ‘A Human Requiem’.

The Performance: There are many good things about this performance, several of them enhanced by the recorded sound and the acoustics of Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. The Frankfurt Radio Symphony sounds like German orchestras of old, deep of bass, warm of viola and flecked with ear-catching one colours. Paavo Järvi’s probing interpretation is reassuringly old fashioned, too, even though he does follow today’s irritating fashion for punctuating the third movement’s penultimate and final chords. The Swedish Radio Choir’s professional forces supply well-tempered sounds and compelling choral energy to support the conductor’s cultured vision of Brahms’s testing score, while Ludovic Tézier’s gutsy baritone also impresses. Only Natalie Dessay disappoints more than she delights.

The Verdict: Järvi’s considerable reading would have joined the list of great Brahms Requiem recordings, if the expressive intensity, formal coherence and poetic eloquence he achieves in the work’s second movement had been carried through the entire performance.

Want More? Furtwängler’s spiritually profound 1948 recording, despite its sonic limitations, is essential listening (Music & Arts, CD-1085). Klemperer’s 1961 recording remains the studio benchmark (EMI Classics, 659 2526).