It’s only natural, I suppose, to assume that an “arrangement” or “transcription” for piano of a great orchestral work will be inferior to the original. But that depends on the particular arrangement and on your mindset. Depending on the skill and creativity of the arranger, the pared-down version may actually prove to be equally worthy in its own right, and in the right hands (so to speak) can have, for listeners who know the original, the advantage of offering a fascinating way to hear the work anew. If you approach Brahms’ four-hand arrangement of Ein Deutsches Requiem in this way, and with this extraordinary recording, you will be pleasantly surprised and satisfied.
If nothing else, this version of the Requiem forces us toRead more focus on the choral writing–which should be the star of the show anyway. And fortunately this chorus–actually two combined choruses– of around 50 singers is ideal in ensemble sound and precision, flexibility, and energy. I guarantee that you won’t hear a more purely exciting performance of this work–a work that’s not normally associated with that description–and that’s at least partly due to conductor Parick Quigley’s attempt (not always managed to the best effect) to “be faithful to” what he refers to as Brahms’ own preference for “elastiche tacht”–for rubatos and accelerandos in his own performances.
Of course we notice the piano as well, and how much it’s not an orchestra–a reality that perhaps is most obvious in the soprano-solo fifth movement, where the lack of subtlety and delicately shaded color in the “orchestra” undermines what actually is one of the more impressive renditions of this notoriously challenging solo: Teresa Wakim shows absolutely no fear of tessitura and her lovely tone and flawless technique exemplify the ethereal quality this at once tender and technically tough music demands. Her solo is a highlight of the disc–and surely among the finest on any recording.
Still, there are many moments–in the final movement, for example–where the conducting rudely runs over the text, where a bit of sensitivity, a slight rubato here and there, a less determined pace (this has nothing to do with piano) would have been welcome, and more true to the text and the spirit of Brahms’ score. Indeed, it seems that Quigley has decided that it’s necessary to somehow compensate for the lack of an orchestra’s weight and force and volume with–speed. At under an hour, I don’t think you’ll hear a swifter rendition of this work by anyone, ever, under any conditions. The “So seid nun geduldig…” section of the second movement literally flies in a mad dance through its 50 measures; but this same accent on celerity makes for the most rousing–and frankly electrifying–conclusion to that movement (“Die Erlöseten des Herrn werden wieder kommen…”) you’re likely to ever experience. The same goes for the choral conclusion of the next movement (“Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand…”).
Whatever else you may take away from this remarkable performance, you won’t forget—nor will you likely ever hear more pronounced in this work—the level of sheer dynamic force, the rifle-shot articulation, the focused energy, the extremes of expressive contrast, or the amazingly vibrant choral sound. And supporting it all is supreme musicianship, even though you may miss a certain aspect of subtlety and lyricism that this work really requires—does the final movement really need to be in such a hurry?
But even within these less-than-subtle moments the musicality and vocal artistry is never less than at the highest level. In the end you realize that to understand and appreciate this version of the Requiem you have to shed your attachment to the work you know and love and just hear it and accept it as a work that’s the same but different. And thanks to the superb chorus we have here—Seraphic Fire and its associate Professional Choral Institute from the University of South Florida—there is never a moment where we doubt the commitment or capability of these singers and pianists in truly setting a fire under a work that for 150 years has had a “slow and reverent” reputation.