BRAHMS: Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) – Mariss Jansons / Concertgebouw Orch./ Genia Kühmeier, sop.; Gerald Finley; bass / Netherlands Radio Choir – RCO Live multichannel (5.0) SACD RCO 15003, 67:30 (9/25/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

This release follows the requiem masses of Dvořák and Mozart in previous seasons,  and this performance of Brahms’s German Requiem would have been the third in a long series of Requiems conducted by Mariss Jansons. However, the cycle was cut short by Jansons’s departure as the RCO’s chief conductor during the 2014/2015 season.

This  performance was dedicated to Kurt Sanderling, one of the orchestra’s most beloved guest conductors. He passed away the year before and would have turned 100 that very month. The recording is made from the best parts of two live performances.

The Brahms German Requiem is unique in many ways. The text is German, not Latin. The idea to create this work began in 1857, and after the death of Brahms’ mother in 1865, the composer began the intense work. The Requiem is considered the one of the major works work of the composer’s life.

This performance, with Mariss Jansons conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra is a fine one. Mixing soloists with an organ, vocal soloists, and a large chorus takes a good deal of musical management, and it’s done very well here. This kind of performance presents two challenges. To balance the music for the people in the hall, and to get a fine recording that represents fully the live performance.

Some more notes on the SACD: This is a carefully-crafted digital recording. The orchestra, soloists and chorus have a slightly distant sound, rather than have the mics close to the stage. I think what’s been done here is the appropriate setup for the Requiem. Even with the more distant perspective, the orchestra and soloists have a solid image between the speakers. The surrounds are filled with a gentle ambiance, and help give the recording a sense of the hall.

I think one of the finest performances of the Requiem is the Klemperer on EMI, but the sonics are dated.

This Jansons/ RCO effort is excellent, and the sonics are of reference quality. It’s certainly worth a purchase, and it’s a fine combination of first rate playing and a thrilling recording.

—Mel Martin