Notes and Editorial Reviews
Paavo Järvi, cond; Natalie Dessay (sop); Ludovic Tézier (bar); Swedish RCh; Frankfurt RSO
VIRGIN 509996286100 7 (72:17)
I have reviewed almost a dozen of the almost 90 available recordings of the Brahms Requiem, with varying positive and negative opinions about their performance qualities. This brings me to a point of self-questioning. What am I (or what have I been) looking for objectively in judging the quality of a performance of this magnificent and monumental work? My
first answer is that marginal differences among conductors, among orchestras, among choruses, and even among soloists should not matter. Nor should marginal differences in tempos matter. In fact, marginal differences of any kind should not, and do not, ultimately matter. What I consider important are absences of gimmicks and extremes, the latter in tempo, dynamics, and part-writing emphases. And, conversely, the presence of sensible tempos and dynamics and the presence of clarity of part-writing are important. But most important for the Brahms Requiem is clarity, for this is music of very complex part-writing where Brahms’s characteristically thick textures need definition.
Paavo Järvi’s direction of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish Radio Chorus serve the cause of clarity extremely well. Where the third movement concludes with a complex fugue, choral detail is discernable, and the very beautiful violin-section line comes through with precision. The opening movement (“Selig sind, die da Leid tragen”) and the final movement as its complement (“Selig sind die Toten”) are played with moving reverence. The appearance of “Aber des Herrn Wort” (
Un poco sostenuto
) later in the second movement quickens one’s pulse. Baritone Ludovic Tézier’s voice is strong and vibrant in the third and sixth movements. And in the sixth movement (“Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt”) the
at bar 82 (“Denn es wird die Posaune schallen”) is powerfully and incisively delivered by orchestra and chorus.
A cross section of nationalities is present on this disc. The conductor is Estonian-American, the soloists are French, the chorus is Swedish-based, and the orchestra is German-based. This is reflective of the internationality of this music.
The one negative aspect of this performance is the quality of Natalie Dessay’s voice. She uses her soprano coloratura to produce a strong vibrato, which is inappropriate to this music. Although she is always on pitch, her “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” becomes increasingly unattractive, and at “wiedersehen” at the end of the movement she sounds at once lugubrious and yodeling. Chalk this up to my personal aversion to strong vocal vibrato!
The positive aspects of this performance far outweigh the single negative. Järvi and his forces have something new and worthwhile to say here—a subjective judgment that complements my objective considerations. This is a Brahms Requiem up there with the best, among them those under Klemperer, Rattle, and Tennstedt.
FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
Works on This Recording
German Requiem, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms
Natalie Dessay (Soprano),
Ludovic Tézier (Baritone)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Swedish Radio Choir
Written: 1854-1868; Austria
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