03-23-2014 I can recall a time back in the middle 1980's when I didn't care for the German Requiem of Brahms, as crazy as that sounds. I only knew and liked the first 2 sections, but later learned it all, memorized it, and now I feel it may be the greatest of all Requiems, closely followed by those of Faure, Morales, and Victoria. It is MUCH better musically than either Verdi, Berlioz, or even Mozart. Written largely between 1856 and 1865, it was premiered on Good Friday of 1865 at Bremen Cathedral but still needed the last section, the soprano's aria, "Irh habt nun Traurigkeit," added mostly as a memorial for the composer's mother, whom had died shortly before the first performance. So, for at least 28 or so, years, I have felt this work to be one of the very finest by the composer and a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word.
This SACD recording was made in the B PO's home, the Philharmonie in November of 1009, by Marek Janowski with the Berlin Radio chorus and orchestra and soprano Camilla Tilling and baritone Detlef Roth for the Pentatone label. yesterday, I reviewed my first Janowski disk, a SACD of the Bruckner 8th, in the Nowak edition. I gave that one a high rating and this one appears headed for the same. The total timing is not brisk, but not drawn out, either. It runs for 68 and a half minutes and is filled with glorious sound and superb singing. I'll try to comment briefly on each of the 7 parts, and keep that short and to the point.
Track #1 is the choral/orchestral only Selig sind, die lied tragen", "Blessed are they that mourn, " and I would invite you to give a listen to the segment from 06:34 thru to 09:03 or so, to hear the rapturously hushed voices, and the concentration on detail that one notices in the flutes and oboes. Truly of an otherworldly effect, this is stunning music in the subtlest of manners, I was, already, transfixed by the serenity of the piece. I shook my head gently side to side in rapt disbelief at the n early unbearable beauty of this performance, assured that, where ever he is, Brahms is certainly already smiling, with deep satisfaction.
The dramatic, earnest and powerful funeral march Part II, "Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie gras, " "For all flesh is as grass, " is as gripping as any I've heard since, that Other great example, by James Levine and his Boston Symphony , also a resplendent SACD of jaw-dropping poignancy. Janowski's masterful building up here pays off as the Chorus smoothly burst forth in full voice, not the least obtrusively serving as a gentle but firm reminder of the fragility of our souls. This is, for Brahms, a loving, but just God, and a God of mercy yet justice, and this message is more like a benevolent urging , rather than a threat to be frightened of. Theologically, this is a sound argument and musically it is quite difficult to pull off correctly, but Janowski and the composer do just that. Already within these first two sections the choral forces have been clearly represented perfectly thanks to Pentatoines careful engineering, and the dynamic range for this SA disk is remarkable. The alternating middle trio section offers some of the composer's best massed wind work, always sonorous and expertly blended it is a short soothing balmAs in his Brucknefr 8th, Janowski wastes little time in the transitions, whereas Levine and surely Giulini, one of my other favorite readings, linger a bit longer, which I preferred over this rendition, but the Polish Maestro is certainly within acceptable limits. In fact, he's a bit like Klemperer in his classic account for EMI. ( as you can tell, I am rich in "Ein Deutsches" treasures.) At 09:06, there maestro slides into the concluding double fugue more gracefully than I expected. Over the next 5 or so minutes, he assembles this exhilarating choral/orchestra combination with great skill. The splendor of this massive major display of choral/ instrumental counterpoint is sensational, each entity extremely well led and picked up by the engineers. Janowski gift wraps this gorgeous package with utter refinement and respect, as I was very impressed, I had to encore the last 6 minutes for sheer pleasure.
Baritone Detlef Roth's warm register opens the "Herr, lehre doch mich," with sincerity and heart felt appeal. Truly a humane plea, he speaks for all of us, as the voice of the souls of the "Everyman" of faith and piety. As the chorus begins chanting their "Ich hoffe auf Dich", "My hope is in Thee," the sense of urgency begins to build up and up in it's dramatic determination to achieve Salvation, drawing near and nearer. Many conductors, seized with excitement tend to let things move too quickly and begin to prematurely attempt to reach the yet to be gained end. But Janowski restrains his forces wisely, and pulls back a bit, gathering the full chorus for yet a second superb fugue into the final bars of this segment. In the process of striving forward, the conductor allows some extacey to leak out from some of the parts of the mixed voices, but draws them all back together for a concluding exclamation point of what is, by this time in the music, a growing sense that deliverance is truly within our grasp. It's almost as if, this track #3 represents the first half of the Requiem, with the real glory and the attainment of ever lasting peace to be found after a "break," which now appears in track #5, "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, Herr Zabaoth!", or "How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!"
Part V is the Soprano aria "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit", or "And Ye now have sorrow," and was for Brahms a personal piece commemorating his loving mother. Brahms was, by 19th Century standards an unusually attentive son, loyal, charitable and kind to his brother Fritz and his sister -------. He sent money for his parents support and took steps to see they were being looked after, as he became more famous and couldn't get home for visits as often as he wished he could. her was always a good friend to those whom he befriended, especially the young and amazing Antonin Dvorak, and rather than simply introduce him, as he did, to his publisher, Simrock, The elder com poser took Dvorak under his wing with encouragement and advise to help his career. I have sometimes wondered what if he had not done so,where would the Bohemian master have wound up. Soprano Camilla Tilling, using a text from St. John and the Old Testament spins a sweet melody of the assurance of comfort, something the composer was particularly interested in, because of his mother's death, in _____-. The message of consolation also appealed to the composer, long after the death of Robert Schumann, whom he was very,close to. No doubt, Clara also found this addition a loving gesture on the part of her devoted friend and lifelong companion Hannes.
Our baritone, Mr. Roth returns again in part VI for the big powerful movement titled "Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt," translated as "For here we have no continuing city." With a text drawn largely from St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, this part Vi is more than a gentle prayer, but rather an action scene, headed by prophecy and ending in triumphant jubilation. More Te Deum that Kyrie, it features the most aggressive singing and playing in the entire work. Janowski driving his forces with a firm authority and inspiring them to as of yet, unachieved heights.
After the baritone introduces the scene in Heaven, he states that the "last trump" the final trumpet St. John heard in the Book of the Apocalypse, (Book of Revelations), the chorus begins the main body of this hair-raising music, describing the raising ofd the dead, incorruptible ( not decayed) from their graves to stand the Last Judgement before the King of heaven. From the 03:58 mark to about 05:32, the chorus sweeps into a rollicking Allegro boldly taunting both death (Tod!) and thew grave (Holle) to "do you'r best!" but, of course, failing to gain their victory over the Salvation now within our grasp. Emphatically the massed voices chant in FFF level "Tod! Tod! Tod!, wo ist dedin Sieg.!" "Death, death, death, where is thy victory?" Without even a split-second to grab a breath, Janowski plunges into the final massive and jaw-dropping double fugue, booming away at FFF volume repeating over and over, "zu nehmen Preis und Ehre und Kraft," meaning "to receive praise, and glory and power." This brilliant climax, sung in the realm of the highest majesty by voices that sound as convincing as any I have ever heard, runs for a grand timing nearly 4 and a half minutes, and taking us to the movement's closing at 09:58.
The German Requiem closes with a return visit, in very similar mood top the beginning of Part I, some 68 and a half minutes earlier. Part VII is "Selig sind die Toten," "Blessed are the dead." Notice, now we pray for the dead, for this entire Requiem has had, as it's subject the grief of the living, hearts shattered and souls bravely entering a world of darkness., made ever so unbearable by the loss of a wife, a husband, or even a child, lives forever changed and leaving the living to carry on in their unquenchable sorrow. Having experienced such sadness, Brahms wanted to comfort the world, but, in the end, as we would of expected, he settled for the simple, tender consolation of both his mother and his Clara. As fine a performance of this masterpiece as I have heard in a long time, but, for a real treat, collect some of these others, Giulini?DGG, Levine?Boston Live, Klemperer/EMI Robert Shaw?Telarc and, of course, this one. A very high recommendation and best wishes for lots of happy listening, Tony.