* BRAHMS: Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), Op. 45 – Christiane Libor, sop./ Thomas E. Bauer, bar./ Warsaw Philharmonic Orch. and Choir/ Antoni Wit – Naxos Pure Audio Blu-ray (DTS Master Audio 5.0 surround, PCM stereo, 24-bit/96kHz) NBD0039, 75:16 *****:
There is little doubt that the death of Brahms’s mother in 1865 was the impetus behind the gestation of his German Requiem, the work that did volumes in establishing his reputation on the wider European scene. Though three movements had been performed in Vienna in 1867—and were not well received—the six movements of the piece, eventually with the addition of a seventh, which in order is the fifth movement in the work—showed that this work in progress did indeed have the ability to conquer audiences, and an 1868 performance solidified the piece in the minds of audiences and critics.
Brahms neutered the text of most Christian elements even though they were taken from the New Testament, and even wanted to call it a “Human” requiem. But that title probably would not have worn well with either his Northern German Protestant forbears or his primarily Southern German Catholic brethren—“German”, in the end, is appropriate after all, and music lovers of all stripes are able to find something wondrous and consoling in this work.
For some of us, this piece, early though it comes in the composer’s output, stands as something of a milestone. Though I love the symphonies they do not stand out to me, with the exception of the Third, as the greatest of Brahms’s music; the Requiem certainly does, its timeless elements striking an emotional chord that some of the other orchestral works do not, and displaying such a masterly command of the orchestral/choral/soloist combination that would rarely be equaled in the next 100 years. We might love and adore the Verdi Requiem, and certainly appreciate the profundities of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, and bask in the subtleties of the Faure Requiem, but when push comes to shove most music lovers will pine away for the Brahms above all others.
There have been many wonderful recordings of this work over the years. I’ve kept only a few, the classic Klemperer, Ormandy’s taut and quick English version, Levine’s fairly recent traversal with the Boston Symphony, and perhaps my favorite, Karajan’s EMI recording, which to me is the most spiritual of the lot. I think we can add this one to the list, though it is on the expansive side, most likely because the forces are quite large. But the ethereal and otherworldly nature of “Selig sind” in the beginning is magnificent, and when the power and fervency needed in “Denn wir haben” is called for, nothing is lacking. Both soloists are wonderful as well, and the whole enterprise smacks of something of a milestone in recorded art for this composition, as the surround sound is extremely spacious, deep, and very warm with great dynamic range. This is a recording to live with for a long time, and audio fans in particular will have to have it.