German Requiem Import
This account of the German Requiem really is one of the great recordings of the century. Even today, Otto Klemperer's monumental interpretation with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, recorded in 1961, remains unmatched among readings that emphasize the spirituality of the score. Sober and sustained, but not unduly slow, it places Brahms on the continuum of German sacred music going back through Beethoven to Handel, Bach, and Schütz. Drawing committed playing and singing from his forces, Klemperer opens the door to the beauties of the music without fuss or fanfare. Both soloists are exemplary: Schwarzkopf's expressive portamento now sounds a bit dated in style, but her singing is characterful, while Fischer-Dieskau is a paragon of restrained expressiveness. The singing of the Philharmonia Chorus is especially beautiful. EMI has done a superior job of remastering the original recording. Balances and tone quality are quite fine, and the spacious Kingsway Hall ambience conveys with lifelike immediacy. Compared with previous CD incarnations, there is new depth to the image and better resolution of detail--the weight of the organ can really be felt, as can the timpani strokes in "Denn alles fleisch es ist wie gras," and one finds greater presence and definition in the chorus and considerably more richness of tone in the orchestra. There is still some distortion in the climactic moments; for example, what sounds like tape saturation frizzes a couple of the big Beethovenian choral proclamations at the end of "Denn alles fleisch es ist wie gras." Such things are but a small blemish on what is an absolutely ravishing restoration of one of the most valuable recordings of the stereo era. --Ted Libbey
What is certain, however, is that this is an incredibly rich, spiritual and inspired performance. Fischer-Dieskau is a marvel, as usual. Schwarzkopf shines in the lead soprano part, although with perhaps a bit of detachment.
This Klemperer recording is my personal favorite -- for the moment. But that can shift swiftly along with my mood, particularly to Karajan's 1947 Vienna recording, which like this reading is certainly among the finest, despite its more troubled sonics.
I am not always convinced by the labels in EMI's "Great Recordings of the 20th Century" series. But this is one that certainly lives up to its name. A must for any lover of sacred choral music. Brahms went his own way here, to produce a truly unique composition in form and structure. Here you get it in all its glory.
Like many have said before me, this is an exemplary album. A robust, full-bodied chorus, two magnificent soloists, and a superb orchestra, all presented in their best light by outstanding engineering: this is truly an album to savor.
At the time of this writing, I found two 1-star reviews and one 2-star review. They basically were dissatisfied with the album's sound quality and Dieskau's performance.
I considered the sound in the Brahms to be very much on par with Klemperer's recording of St Matthew Passion, which I thought sounded quite good. In fact, many listeners may be tempted as I was to turn up the volume while listening to this Brahms disc.
The tempos taken by Dieskau sounded comparable to other Brahms recordings I've heard of similar length (Robert Shaw, James Levine). His manner of singing is the way Dieskau sings in all of his records. Fans who like Dieskau want more of the same. Here, they get it.
It took me a few hearings to appreciate Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. In her 1947 recording with Karajan, she seemed too reserved for my taste. Her approach didn't change much by 1961, but what became more audible was the sheer beauty of her unique sound. That was what finally got me hooked.
Texts and translations included.