Notes and Editorial Reviews
This 1947 Vienna recording of the Brahms Requiem—the first studio recording of the work and still one of the most charismatic—sounds more strangely radiant at each new reissue, with this CD version the best of several we have had from Europe and Japan in the last 12 years. The recording was made in astonishingly difficult circumstances by Karajan, Legge and his recording engineer Douglas Larter, but it has always been peculiarly clear despite some general recession of the choral image and an occasional haze round the edges of the higher frequencies. The clarity derives from eerily poignant articulation of the singers and reminds me very much of a comparable atmosphere in Nadia Boulanger's 1948 recording of the Faure Requiem (EMI References mono (D CDH7 61025-2, 1/89).
The intonation of some members of the Singverein occasionally wavers—there was no heating in the hall and some probably had not seen a decent meal for a week—but Karajan and Legge were endlessly patient and Schwarzkopf herself stood in the midst of the sopranos in many of the takes to give them added confidence and surety. The result is an articulation of the text so tender, so sad, so telling that one is no longer listening to a performance of a piece of music but, to a sublime meditation on sacred texts by men and women all too acutely aware in the aftermath of war of the truth of the words and the sublimity of Brahms's setting of them. Thus, it is like many performances of that period—including the Karajan/Richard Strauss Metamorphosen recorded during the same sessions and his glorious, liberating 1951 Bayreuth Meistersinger that EMI will be reissuing on CD in the References series later this year—a performance that can never be emulated or repeated.
Collectors of the Requiem will still no doubt want a stereo version in better sound than this, and if they are wise they will buy the Klemperer (EM) (D CDC7 47238-2, 6/87). Thereafter, there will be no need to darken the doors of a record store again in search of a recording; between them, Karajan and Klemperer say all that needs to be said about this wonderful but so easily maligned and mis-directed work.
-- Gramophone [1/1990]
reviewing this recording previously reissued as EMI 61010