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Almost as good as Karajan's last version
on 28 March 2011
Nearly twenty years separate this and my favourite Brahms Requiem, by the same conductor and the same choir, both with very fine orchestras and soloists. There is little difference in the interpretations - Karajan tended to stick to a favoured formula once he found it worked. Both are very poised, grand and dignified, stately of tread and noble in utterance - no perky jog-trotting à la Gardiner. I can understand some being impatient with the weightiness of Karajan's approach but I do not find that it turns flaccid and I am convinced by his firm, over-arching grip on proceedings which confers unity and serenity on the work. For me, a key point is this work is always the "Aber des Herrn Wort" heralding the fugue concluding the second movement - and Karajan does not disappoint with his monumental attack and Schwung, although the later version is even more thrilling.
Differences between his older and newer versions reside mainly in quality of sound - the 1964 recording is a bit recessed, muffled and papery whereas the latest recording is in superb digital sound - and the fact that the 1983 Wiener Singverein are superior in weight, tone, bite and unity to their earlier selves. Good though he is, Eberhard Waechter is not as steady and gravely beautiful as the hieratic José van Dam in 1983. On the other hand, nobody beats Gundula Janowitz in floating a heavenly line and Karajan allows her considerably more time and space to make her points than he does for the nonetheless excellent Barbara Hendricks.
This is now available very cheaply with full a texts and notes whereas the digital disc is usually considerably more expensive, so a Janowitz fan or anyone wanting a bargain introduction and prepared to compromise a little on sound quality will not be disappointed.