I played and reviewed a lot of German Requiems about 5 or 6 months ago, and maybe I had gotten too used to them, but coming on this music again, in this beautifully recorded version, I was struck again with how distinctive and expressively apt Brahms's music is in this piece. Is there anything else in Brahms remotely like it? That said, there are some drawbacks to the recording. Herreweghe seems interested in many choruses in presenting the choral music more as instrumentally than as verbally expressive, and one can well imagine that this recording is pretty faithful to the sound of the live concerts from which it was taken, with the chorus placed back, the orchestra in front, and the soloists also up front. There are times when the verbal dimension of the choral singing is allowed to come through, and they're very effective. In their "instrumental" mode, they sound good too, but don't expect to make much of the words. For me, who likes to hear the words (as in Spano's and Kubelik's versions), this is the cost of Herreweghe's concept. I think, given the character of the music, it's a defensible concept . . . but still . . .
The consolatory quality of the piece certainly finds expression; the sound is beautiful, and the orchestra plays splendidly -- very polished, for a live performance. The soloists, Christine Oelze and Gerald Finley, both young in 1996, are simply outstanding. The dramatic power of their singing, within Herreweghe's frame, is as impressive as the unstrained beauty of their voices. In many ways, then, this is a fine recording. I just like to hear more words . . . so I still lean to the great Kubelik account on Audite.