BRAHMS: Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone/Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Otto Klemperer
EMI Classics 9 65925 2, 69:07 ****:
Recorded late March and early April 1961 at Kingsway Hall, London, this disc represents one of many grand moments of association between Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) and the Philharmonia Orchestra, of which Klemperer assumed the unofficial helm after the departure of Herbert von Karajan. On 19 March Klemperer conducted the Eroica funeral march in memoriam of Sir Thomas Beecham, who had died March 8 and had given the inaugural concert of the Philharmonia in 1945. The valedictory atmosphere, along with the intentions to commemorate Schumann and the composer’s own mother, saturates this performance with a solemn, monumental nobility that hearkens back to the 1947 inscription by Karajan with Schwarzkopf and Hans Hotter.
Klemperer garnered a repute for imposing, classically arched conceptions in music, but the opening movement of the Requiem transports us into a world as transparent as it is sanctified by a humanist spirit. The Philharmonia Chorus, a product of trainer Wilhelm Pitz, maintains a marvelous resonance and response to Klemperer’s measured, balanced periods, the diction alert and clear. The low strings, the violas, cellos, and basses, add that touch of autumnal magic that makes the Brahms experience poignant with mortal thoughts. The clarion repose of the Chorus simply floats in a rarified aether for the crux of the piece, the fourth movement, taken from Psalm 84. The longest movement, Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras, indeed balances gravitas and spiritual resolve, the rhythm a bizarre cross of march and unearthly waltz. A dialogue between the chorus, trumpets, and the Philharmonia tympani dominates our perspective on the ephemera of life.
The two soloists, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, enact their respective parts with firm vocal characterization, the baritone seeking meaning and prophetic consolation from Psalm 39–a bit of the rhythmic phrasing to inspire the Dvorak Cello Concerto, especially poignant on the sustained pedal D–in movement three, the soprano offering a vision of salvation in her high B-flat in the course of her beautifully modulated aria in movement five. In his second appearance–in the towering movement six–Fischer-Dieskau achieves a stoical grandeur whose conviction in transformation braces us for the resistance to Death’s sting, the spiritual battle over fear about to be won in glorious four-part C Major counterpoint on Revelation. The final movement brings panoramic consolation, perhaps even more from the male members of the chorus than from the high sopranos, a comrade’s reassurance that the veil of tears, too, shall pass away. This recording remains a stalwart document in the great Brahms catalogue.