Notes and Editorial Reviews
Christine Schäfer, soprano
Christian Gerhaher, baritone
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Bavarian Radio Chorus)
(chorus master: Peter Dijkstra)
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Christian Thielemann, conductor
Recorded live from the Munich Philharmonie, April 2007.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1
Running time: 83 mins
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, German, French
No. of DVDs: 1
Christian Thielemann, cond; Christine Schäfer (sop); Christian Gerhaher (bar); Munich PO; Bavarian R Ch
UNITEL CLASSICA 703308 (DVD: 83:00) Live: Munich 4/2007
Watching Christian Thielemann conduct Brahms’s Requiem is a little like watching Karajan conduct the work. He presides, eagle-eyed, batonless, physically nearly inactive much of the time, but generating lots of intensity. The rich Bavarian Radio Chorus, using scores, and the Munich Philharmonic, which recorded the work with Celibidache, dig into the music with real commitment. With its emphatic bass lines, weighty, measured pace, and powerful dynamic range, this performance is not as gently consoling as some. The Requiem’s undercurrent of grief is felt. In Thielemann’s hands, a musical connection between the slowly insistent pulsing that opens the first and sixth movements and the sinister tread of
grail knights does not seem far-fetched.
The logic of the Requiem’s sequence of movements is well showcased in Thielemann’s reading. The first movement’s introspective searching is balanced by the same qualities in the seventh (final) movement. (In this performance, the audience was requested to not applaud at the end so as to not break the meditative mood.) The second movement’s mystery and vigor find their counterpart in the sixth. Surrounding the brief, tranquil fifth movement, “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen,” are the movements featuring the baritone and soprano. They are convincingly analyzed in an essay by Michael Steinberg in the indispensable volume
The Compleat Brahms
as being symbolically representative of Schumann, Brahms’s musical father, and Christiane, his mother, whose deaths motivated Brahms to compose the Requiem. Under pressure to add a movement whose text would include a direct reference to Christ, Brahms added the fifth movement two years after the rest of the secularly titled German Requiem was complete. According to Harald Reiter’s notes, Brahms told the choirmaster of the Bremen Cathedral that he would have preferred to call the work “A Human Requiem.”
The soloists are splendid. I am increasingly impressed by the baritone Christian Gerhaher, who has emerged as one of the outstanding German baritones of his generation. His range and timbre are perfectly suited to the Requiem’s extensive solos, and his ability to sing legato is comparable to Fischer-Dieskau’s in Klemperer’s classic EMI recording. (Hans Hotter’s more dramatic performance with Karajan from 1947 is even more compelling.) The soprano solo is effortlessly sung by Christine Schäfer with the requisite pure, radiant tone. A wonderful singer, though not the most dramatic presence, she is more in her element here than as Sophie or Gretel in recent Met performances.
This is a moving performance whose gravity doesn’t impede the music’s flow. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Works on This Recording
German Requiem, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms
Christian Gerhaher (Baritone),
Christine Schäfer (Soprano)
Bavarian Radio Chorus,
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1854-1868; Austria
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