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Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem / Karg, Bauer, Beck

Brahms / Schleswig-holstein-festival Lubeck
Release Date: 04/30/2013 
Label:  Profil   Catalog #: 13023   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Thomas E. BauerChristiane Karg
Conductor:  Rolf Beck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Basel Chamber OrchestraSchleswig-Holstein Festival Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 Rolf Beck, cond; Christiane Karg (sop); Thomas E. Bauer (bar); Schleswig-Holstein Festival Ch Lübeck; Basel CO PROFIL 13023 (69:48)

Otto Klemperer’s 1962 EMI German Requiem is regularly cited as being the finest of all recordings of the work, and I agree with the critical consensus. Rolf Beck’s reading is also first-rate, superior to many other versions by better-known ensembles and Read more soloists, but, while its musical values are not so different from Klemperer’s, the recording differs from his in a few important respects.

If the applause at the end can be trusted, it documents a live performance. The recording dates of July 28 and 29, 2012, and the location, the Musik und Kongresshalle in Lübeck, are given in the booklet, though there’s no mention of it being live. There’s no audience noise until the end. The recorded sound creates a feeling of listening from some distance away from the performing forces. There’s a sense of depth, but compared to EMI’s 50 year old engineering, it feels diffuse, with less focus and richness.

With over 50 players, the Basel Chamber Orchestra isn’t inappropriately small for Brahms’s score, but it has a leaner string sound than the full orchestra heard in most traditional recordings of the work. The chorus sings with a polished, well-blended sound that’s most impressive in slower, sustained passages like the opening of the first movement. In the fugal finale of the third movement, I wished for more pointed delivery and overall volume for the voices to be better heard over the orchestra and the prominent organ. The lively finale of the sixth movement is better delivered and balanced.

The soloists, like almost all who are heard in other recordings of the Requiem , sing beautifully. Thomas E. Bauer is a typically mellifluous German baritone whose beauty of sound is comparable to Fischer-Dieskau’s—he brings a gently imploring quality to “Herr, lehre doch mich”—without the older singer’s more authoritative, declamatory manner. Soprano Christiane Karg meets the demands of “Ich habt nun Traurigkeit,” without turning her voice into a disembodied, not quite human sounding instrument, as Schwartzkopf chooses to do.   

Beck’s natural sounding tempo choices and pacing of each movement bring about the right emotional effects; profound consolation in the opening and closing movements, lamentation in the second, and grandeur at the work’s larger climaxes. Best of all is the way that the sweetly devotional fourth movement, the Requiem ’s centerpiece, flows along with a lilt and lightness that I prefer to Klemperer’s heavier tread. Though it lacks some intensity and gravitas, this is a highly recommendable German Requiem.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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Works on This Recording

German Requiem, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Thomas E. Bauer (Baritone), Christiane Karg (Soprano)
Conductor:  Rolf Beck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Basel Chamber Orchestra,  Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854-1868; Austria 

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