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Take Two of the Brahms Requiem. And much more of a success
on 2 April 2012
I must confess, on seeing this second recording by Gardiner of the Brahms Requiem, I was a little dismissive. For while I've enjoyed all of Gardiner's recent `period' Brahms Symphonies discs (even down to their beautiful presentation), I'd never taken well to his earlier Philips recording of the Requiem. While at the time - a good two decades ago now - Gardiner had spoken about wanting to reinvigorate the piece, I found it a relatively cold and unmoving experience. Not being a fan of traditional overinflated Brahms Requiems with stodgy choirs and (often) operatic soloists, I settled on Norrington's surprisingly good `period' account on EMI/Virgin with Olaf Bär and Lynne Dawson (recorded in 1992). For while Norrington's `period' Brahms Symphonies (EMI) ignited much controversy when they were released, (I certainly didn't enjoy them) he managed to produce a consistent and satisfying `period' Requiem in which the lumbering excesses of past `modern' versions were trimmed away and the music given a pulse.
It is within this context that I approached Gardiner's second account of the Requiem. From the very opening movement it is clear that there is engagement with the text. Words are projected clearly allowing us to savour their meanings. But for all its beauty and refinement, I couldn't help feeling that it sometimes comes at the expense of sheer gutsiness. Take, for instance, the climaxes of the 2nd movement which, as performed here, seem somewhat underpowered, or the way in which the ending of the 3rd movement lacks exhilaration and momentum.
The soloists are new names to me and I was apprehensive about what to expect. Both are successful in lending `presence' but without `spotlighting' themselves. They might not be 'international' names but they work very well within the musical tapestry. Matthew Brook is a robust and pleasing baritone. Katherine Fuge has a touching simplicity about her singing helped by her beautiful articulation of the words.
The recording (made live in Edinburgh Hall in 2008) gives a pleasing and helpful resonance to the sound. There are no audience intrusions or applause. Thrown in for extra measure are two pieces by Schütz which share some of the texts Brahms used in his Requiem texts.
All in all, a satisfying `period' account, albeit one which doesnt completely transcend its 'English' sensibilities (the same can be said of Gardiner's Bach cycle) it is still preferable to much of what else is out there, hence 5 stars nevertheless. Those who are committed to the famous versions of the past like Klemperer, Abbado, Karajan etc may not approve of everything here. But really, this work (as has much of Brahms' symphonic oeuvre) has long been in need of an overhaul and it gets a very successful one here.