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VERY BRAHMSIAN REQUIEM
on 16 March 2007
I'm not sure I've ever heard the Deutsches Requiem sound more Brahmsian. That may seem an odd remark, but many recordings make of it a sui generis piece, living in a funerary world of its own. But I hear in this performance from Rattle and the Berliners direct lines into the symphonies and the concertos that I'm seldom so conscious of with other performers. It's there in the melodic and rhythmic phrasing, in the orchestral textures, especially of the woodwind, and in the integration of choir and orchestra.
Like his recent Schubert Great C Major, this is in many ways an old fashioned performance. Tempi are broader than we get from more `authentic' modernists like John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington and the like, textures are richer and warmer, it comes through as an altogether grander work. Brahms determined to write a very untraditional Requiem, not just in his choice of texts but in his focus on the bereaved who are left behind rather than the traditional prayers for the dead themselves. It was, after all, written soon after his mother's death and the central movement, `Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit', is a tender and moving memorial to her. Rattle reflects this humanity in his performance: it is perhaps the most humanist German Requiem since Kempe's wonderful performance with the same orchestra.
I don't want to leave the impression that this is an over-sombre, stodgy performance, though. Far from it. Those moments when the clouds clear and the sun comes out and the music starts to stir with life, movement and liveliness suit Rattle's ability to lift and energise a rhythm well. The fourth movement becomes almost a lilting waltz at times, a heavenly dance if you like. The big fugal passages with their strong undertow of typical Brahmsian pedal points have great energy and thrust. Even the imposing, deliberate tread of the `Alles Fleisch' funeral march always retains focus and purpose.
The performers are an impressive lot. The orchestra again shows itself to be in the very front rank, investing textures with colour and shape, phrasing solos with individuality while remaining consistent with the whole. The choir are exceptional: this is glorious, wonderfully disciplined choral singing. Roschmann is an ideally tender soprano soloist in that central, consolatory movement. Quastoff is eloquent as always, but do I detect just the first signs of wear and tear in the voice creeping in? Is there just a tad more spread to the tone when it's put under pressure than there used to be? It is nevertheless a fine performance. Perhaps neither soloist quite lives up to the perfect ethereal beauty of Grummer or the drama of Fischer-Dieskau on the Kempe recording, but they are certainly good enough to see off most of their modern rivals.
As a performance, the Kempe remains something very special. Among modern recordings, this new one is up there with the very best. Gardiner is worth exploring for a refreshingly brisker cleaner view: but for a more traditional take on the work this new Berlin performance is well worth hearing.