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Brahms: German Requiem / Tennstedt, Popp, Allen, London Po, Et Al

Release Date: 05/13/2008 
Label:  Bbc Legends   Catalog #: 4234   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Thomas AllenLucia Popp
Conductor:  Klaus Tennstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic ChoirLondon Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS German Requiem Klaus Tennstedt, cond; Lucia Popp (sop); Thomas Allen (bar); London PO & Ch BBC LEGENDS 4324 (76:41) Live: London 8/26/1984

The fact that this is a live recording is revealed only by reading the text in the jewel case insert or by inference from the audience noise between movements and the applause at the very end. This and a later quibble about baritone Thomas Allen are the only drawbacks to calling this disc monumental Read more as a tribute to Tennstedt, and of course to Brahms.

The late Klaus Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic Orchestra are among the masters of late 20th-century performance. The choir is one of the best, and Lucia Popp’s soprano voice is marvelous. I especially admire her stunning Queen of the Night role in Klemperer’s Magic Flute CD. Thomas Allen, however, is merely adequate rather than distinguished in this otherwise superior company. The sound quality is excellent. At all times, orchestral and choral textures are transparent, which is an especially difficult trick to pull off with Brahms.

The opening movement (“Selig sind, die da Leid tragen”) is taken at a relatively slow tempo, but clarity and superb articulation abound, with the part-writing clearly discernable. These plaudits also apply to the “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras” second movement, which is taken at a moderate tempo. The “Aber des Herrn Wort” section enters at a somewhat deliberate pace, but is appropriately stirring nonetheless. What follows is certainly done well enough, but is not especially remarkable, except for its clarity of part-writing. The concluding “Ewige Freude,” however, is just beautiful.

Thomas Allen’s baritone in the third movement is characterized by good pitch, but is lacking in sufficient power, or perhaps expressiveness. The lucidity of orchestral and choral parts initially rescues this movement from the merely pedestrian and then, in the final fugue, transforms it to the Olympian. The final fugue, so complex and thickly textured, is presented with the greatest clarity of all of the seven Brahms German Requiems I’ve reviewed or compared in the last eight issues of Fanfare . Dare I say that this fugue approaches the texture of chamber music?

“Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen,” the fourth movement, is beautifully songful, with the “die loben dich immer dar” section sung with particular precision. Lucia Popp is obviously the star of the fifth movement, with her “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” crystal clear and exactly on pitch. Tennstedt, orchestra, and chorus are great here, also. The sixth movement opens slowly, but very clearly and with an eeriness suitable to its subject matter and preparatory to its coming complexity. Here, Allen’s entry is weak, but grows adequately, though not stunningly, in power. The Vivace at bar 82 is powerful and stirring. The final movement, “Selig sind die Toten,” is again clear and well articulated, with transparent part-writing. The entry tempo does not drag, and slows suitably for the later entry of “Ja, Der Geist spricht,” which is just ethereal.

So what is a reviewer to recommend at the end of his sixth Brahms German Requiem review within the last eight issues (30:6, 31:1, 31:6, 32:1 (2). and this issue). I could claim to be a Brahms Requiem consultant, but that would be presumptuous. So I will state my preferences with a background of six reviews. First (at this moment), Klemperer/Philharmonia O; close second, Tennstedt/London PO; close third, Rattle/Berlin PO—unless your mood of the moment leads you to a different one of the six possible orderings. Get all three!

FANFARE: Burton Rothleder

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Works on This Recording

German Requiem, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Thomas Allen (Baritone), Lucia Popp (Soprano)
Conductor:  Klaus Tennstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Choir,  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854-1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 8/26/1984 
Venue:  Live  Live London, England 
Length: 75 Minutes 16 Secs. 

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