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Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 / Harnoncourt, Kuhmeier, Hampson, Arnold Schoenberg Choir

Release Date: 02/01/2011 
Label:  Rca   Catalog #: 72066  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Thomas HampsonGenia Kühmeier
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic OrchestraArnold Schoenberg Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS German Requiem Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond; Genia Kühmeier (sop); Thomas Hampson (bar); Arnold Schoenberg Ch; Vienna P RCA RED SEAL 88697720662 (72:01)

There’s nothing like a good requiem to brighten your day, and this new recording of Brahms’s German Requiem is one of the best and brightest. Recorded in December 2007—just the thing to put the Viennese in the Christmas spirit—it has just about everything one would want in a recording of this Read more work: polished singing, architectural grandeur, and an interpretive point of view.

Harnoncourt casts this work as a giant arch. Appearing out of the mists in “Selig sind, die da Leid tragen,” it disappears back into them, having been healed, in “Selig sind die Toten.” The initial choral entry in the first movement is nothing less than eerie in its quiet clarity and control, and indeed, the choral work throughout this recording is outstanding. There is no shortage of power in “Denn alles Fleisch” and in “Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Statt,” yet there is no shouting and no forcing of the choral tone. In quieter sections, one is impressed by the beauteous and well-blended sound made by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, and at no point does one sense anything less than total commitment and identification with Brahms’s early masterwork. In my review of Marek Janowski’s PentaTone recording of this work ( Fanfare 34:4) I cited the choral contribution on Robert Shaw’s Atlanta version (Telarc) as a high standard. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir matches Shaw’s ensemble, and perhaps goes beyond it.

Thomas Hampson, not always lovely to hear as of late, melts many of the years away in his solos, and projects the text sensitively and with humanity. Soprano Genia Kühmeier’s voice has a Schwarzkopf-like coolness that suits “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit,” yet she also sings as if she still is among the living, not the angelic already-dead.

Apart from a few sudden rallentandos in the sixth movement, I am completely in sympathy with Harnoncourt’s work here. Who guessed, back in his early days, that his interpretations of music in the Classical and Romantic repertoires would be as important as his work in music from the Baroque (and earlier) era? Not only does he underline the work’s arch-like shape, he also emphasizes its symmetry. Slower tempos (Janowski’s recording, for example, is almost four minutes faster) are sustained by the inescapable forward motion generated on the podium. Harnoncourt gets not only the big picture but the details right as well. One very satisfying moment for me comes near the end of “Herr, lehre doch mich,” where Harnoncourt realizes the deep bell-like sonorities that Brahms wrote into the orchestral score. Harnoncourt’s reading is massive but never earthbound, and although there is drama and stress, the work’s ultimate message is, at it should be, one of genuine comfort, and of having passed over to “the other side.” The Vienna Philharmonic, which has this music in its collective blood, does not settle for routine here, although it is the singing and the conducting that make the strongest impression.

The engineering is fine if not exceptional. The distinguished booklet note is by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs of Bremen (“scholar, conductor, and co-editor of the Anton Bruckner Complete Edition”).

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

German Requiem, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Genia Kühmeier (Soprano)
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854-1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: December, 2007 

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