51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I have been listening to Brahms's German Requiem to commemorate the death of a parent of a dear friend. This beloved work received its first performances in 1868 and 1869. Its immediate inspiration was the death of Brahms's mother and, probably, the death of Robert Schumann as well. Although many view Brahms as a conservative composer, the spiritual message of this work is distinctly modern. In writing his Requiem, Brahms eschewed traditional religous doctrines, creeds, and texts. Instead, he chose passages from the Bible (Old and New Testaments and Apocrypha) that emphasized a sense of the mystery of life, the fragility of life and inevitability of death, the hope for the future, and the value of patience and endurance. The German Requiem gives a sense of spirituality in a secular age. Brahms himself saw his work as a "human" rather than as merely a German requiem. Malcolm Macdonald, in his 1990 book, "Brahms", has aptly captured much of the spirit of this music when he describes it as showing "human love as the equivalent of God's love of the cosmos" (p. 22). Human love encompasses the love of a parent, friend, child, sweetheart, and much else.
I can't think of a more fitting interpreter of the German Requiem than Otto Klemperer or of a better recording to bring this music to life than this historic, 1961 recording with the Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, with soloists Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwartzkopf. The recording is available at modest price on the EMI Classics series of "Great Recordings of the Century." It is that, indeed.
Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) was himself a religious seeker passing through at various times of his life periods of skepticism, Judaism, Christianity, and then near the end of his life a return to Judaism. He was at his best in the performance of serious, monumental music and in the works of Beethoven and Brahms. (His performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is also masaterful and available on this series.) This recording captures the solemnity and gravity of Brahms's great Requiem and also its lyricism -- its ultimate message of comfort and hope. The sound is outstanding. The chorus can be heard clearly and understood, and the instrumentation of the work comes through. The soloists, Fisher-Dieskau and Schwartzkopf perform their important parts in the third, sixth, and fifth sections beautifully. Klemperer's tempos are slow and magesterial.
The Requiem combines Brahms's study of the music of the past, primarily Bach and Mozart, with his need to compose in his own voice. Put otherwise, Brahms tried to reformulate the religious sensibilities of the past for the modern temper. Large massive fugual sections conclude the second, third and sixth sections of the requiem and counterpoint looms large in much of the rest of the work. But the prevailing tone is one of peace and comfort.
The first movement of the work is a consolation to mourners set in the lower registers of chorus and orchestra. The second movement is a lengthy and solemn sarabande which celebrates the transience of human life and the hope of an enduring life hereafter. This movement includes grand music for brass and tympani as well as for the chorus and the monumental fugue. Fischer-Dieskau delivers an eloquent prayer for wisdom and understanding in the third movement which, again, is capped by a great fugue. The fouth movement, the climax of the work, is short and songlike and captures the etherial spirit of heaven. The fifth movement belongs to Ms Schwartzkopf as she delivers Brahms's message of hope and consolation to mourners. The sixth movement is an impassioned dialogue on the mystery of life between the chorus and Fischer-Dieskau culminating in a grand fugue of glory to God. The finale returns to the movement of the opening, in a higher register, and closes the work on notes of hope and serenity.
The German Requiem is one of the treasures of music. Klemperer's version is an inspiration and will move both new listerners and those familiar with Brahms's great score.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
First of all, here's what I don't understand: when people say Brahms "looks good on the page, but...". I don't even really see how that's possible. They either flipped through a score at a music store, bought it because all the little notes and stems looked pretty, and went home and tried to conduct it with disappointing results: "wow, that page looked really nice, but little Skyler wasn't hitting the bass notes... Brahms sucks"; or, just by looking at the page, they are actually capable of transposing several instruments written in different clefs and key signatures, are aware of the various timbres of all those instrument at different marked styles of playing, and have the musical knowledge to know how those combinations of sounds will translate over time - in which case they would in fact be capable of telling whether or not a piece of music really looks good on the page, and should also be conducting orchestras. But the vast majority of people who really are capable of that and do actually conduct orchestras seem to love and perform Brahms regularly. So I guess I don't really understand what people mean by that phrase but I'm open for enlightenment if anybody else gets it and wants to share.
As for the requiem itself it is beautiful, deep, and personal music. Brahms had an immensely expressive harmonic palette and he knew exactly how to use it to pull listeners in and manipulate their emotions, and that is really what he's doing in the Requiem. He was just as advanced as Wagner with his harmonies and chromaticism. Where they differed was that Brahms believed in the intrinsic beauty of classical forms and the progression of the tradition of thematic development, just as his heroes Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, etc. had, which gave his music its clarity and sense of completion and perfection, while, due to his later place in history, he had the benefit of the Romantic period's harmonic explorations to give his music its emotional depth and intensity.
One reviewer claims that Brahms didn't have a penchant for melodies, and regardless of the fact that I don't agree with that, I also think it's important to point out that some movements in this piece are not meant to be sweepingly melodic, but instead very powerfully emotional because of the harmony. This is lush, romantic music, not dry and academic. Appropriately heavy and pensive at times, and those are the most powerful moments of the piece. It's about struggling with mortality, comforting those who are left behind after a person's death - it isn't really a traditional requiem, it's an existential dilemma set to music, using bible verses specifically chosen by Brahms because they illustrated how he felt in relation to his own mortality/sadness in coping with loss, and all of humanity's struggle to come to terms with that.
Some of the 5th movement text:
"And ye now therefore have sorrow...
Ye see how for a little while I labor and toil, yet have I found much rest.
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you. . ."
There are reasons why this work is very popular - it is beautiful and affecting, and touches a universal and personal concern of all humanity.
On this recording the slower movements are great: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, totally sublime. The 6th movement, though - it's powerful most of the time, but also a let-down: the brass sounds amazing, and Klemperer really uses them to build tension with those high clustered dissonant notes. But for some reason he builds up to these really intense moments and then cuts the tempo right as the next section begin. It sounds strange and anti-climactic and it's a bummer because it otherwise sounds really impressive.
I would purchase either this or Claudio Abbado's versions, or both. I don't like Karajan's at all, it's ridiculously slow and bland (and I consider him to be the best interpreter of Brahms' symphonies). Bruno Walter's is fast. REALLY fast. And Gardiner's is pretty good. Right now I'm torn between Abbado's and this recording because Abbado's sounds more polished and beautiful, but less balanced. The woodwinds and brass are overpowered by the strings and, although it still sounds great, you realize which sonorities are missing when you compare it to this one.