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A profound interpretation, wonderfully played. sung and recorded,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem, op. 45 (Audio CD)
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In the opinion of several reviewers in the UK and the USA this performance tends to become boring. Especially what are seen as being rather rigid tempi have led to this interpretation being labelled stodgy. To my knowledge all reviewers agreed that orchestra, soloists and choir sing and play very well and that the recorded sound is excellent.
I wish to elaborate a bit about the technical qualities of this recording. Due to the brilliant and transparent sound I could hear orchestral textures more clearly than ever before. In some I heard instruments and combinations of instruments which I had not perceived up till now. This in itself justified its purchase for me. I can also only endorse what even its detractors have acknowledged. As might be expected the Vienna Philharmonic play with great accuracy, musicality and sensitivity. The choir is superb; it sings with forcefulness and dramatic impetus where required but also with delicacy and inwardness in the more lyrical and introverted passages. One can understand almost every word of the texts from the Old Testament.This is particularly important in this work, it is essential in my opinion. Due to size and quality of the choir there is no trace of the muffled and blurred sound which some of the worthy recordings with much larger choirs have. What also impressed me was that this choir manages to sing with sensitivity and musicality even in very loud passages. There is none of the straining and pressing which one sometimes hears in lesser choirs - the opening of the last song, for example, doesn't sound at all strained or forced. Both soloists are very good although I personally have a different conception of how the male songs should be interpreted. - more about this later.
It is however the interpretation which appears to have caused problems with some listeners.
Because of this I approached this recording with some trepidation although I am an old Harnoncourt fan (since the 1960s). After listening to it carefully I have come to the conclusion that what makes this interpretation special - and perhaps controversial - is the fact that Harnoncourt has a clear and personal concept which he follows consistently from start to finish. As I see it, he recognizes in this profound work the admiration which Brahms felt for baroque composers such as Schütz and Bach. John-Eliot's recrodings of Brahms' symphonies, in which he links them to baroque music which Brahms cherished made this connection convincingly audible. I believe that this influence can be discerned throughout this performance of his Requiem. It manifests itself not only because of its earnestness but also in the way Harnoncourt emphasizes melodic lines in a way which reminds me of the aforesaid old masters. Added to this is the use of so-called "Affekte", a German term which is difficult to translate. Basically it means the formalized and canonized use of themes to convey standardized emotions such as joy, grief, jealousy, rage and so one (goes back to ancient Greek drama). In this Requiem they are the relentless ticking away of time or the beating of the human heart, the tolling of bells and the use of descending and rising sequences. I had in no previous recording been made so aware of this aspect of the piece. If you want to discover more about the use of "Affekte" listen to Bach's cantatas or Handel's operatic arias. They are full of such devices to illustrate or identify emotions. Please do not confuse these "effects" with real emotions -they were not meant to overwhelm the listener in the same way as in later Romantic and Post-Romantic music. They were more like the "signature tunes" for a quite limited range of emotions.
In the opening bars of the first movement there is a pulsating which aroused in me an association with the passing of time. I had not heard this opening quite this way before. Harnoncourt achieves this effect quite simply by emphasizing and reducing? (how are they marked by Brahms?) the length of a few notes. Out of this wonderfully mysterious and evocative beginning a build-up follows leading to the first entry of the choir. This entry is sung in a hushed Piano and the surprising effect is quite miraculous. Even here one can understand every word. As I wrote above this dominance of the text reminds me somewhat of a severe and unrelenting sermon from the pulpit of a Protestant church. as such in any previous recording..
The first part of the second movement ("Denn alles Fleisch,es ist wie Gras - For all flesh is as grass")is inter-preted as a long, drawn-out funeral march - Brahms marked it "marschmäßig, like a march". Its four-note rhythm recurrs throughout the movement, relentlessly. It could be this persistent, ever-present beat which has led to some reviewers finding this movement stodgy. I found it absolutely logical and convincing - austere, sombre and almost threatening. The build-up to the first entrance of the choir is slow but extremely tense and when the choir entered it sent shivers down my back. Impressive again the pronunciation and clarity of the choir., which declaims the dark message about our mortality. This funeral-march like theme climaxes in the loud, heavy and insistent strokes of the timpani - awe inspiring. One element that I noticed for the first time is the passage in which a harp plays what is clearly for me a representation of the ticking away of the hours, minutes and seconds - Shostakovich came to mind, especially the conclusion of his 15th symphony but once again this is also a baroque device. Set against this, the repetitive and plaintive second theme on "Das Gras ist verdorret - the grass withers" is a strong contrast. Once again it reminds me of an "Affekt" from baroque music - "Klagen" or "Trauer". - a rising and then falling melody, which resembles a sigh ("Seufzer"). Once again it is to the credit of this interpretation that such details are discernable, for me at any rate.
Then a sudden and unexpected change takes place - on the word "aber - but" - what a brilliant idea of Brahms to place such emphasis on what is basically an unimportant word. From here on this piece becomes triumphant because it illustrates the victory of faith over the "Nichtigkeit - nothingness" of the first section. Trumpets now dominate the orchestra, once again a reference to the "meaning" of this instrument in earlier music. The trombones, which are traditionally associated with death can still hear at the start of this section but their use diminishes as the trumpets take over.. Due to Harnoncourt's interpretation and the excellent recorded sound one can experience the full impact of this triumphant conclusion.
The third movement is utterly different. Whereas the choir almost "recites" or proclaims the text in the second movement Thomas Hampson adopts a pleading tone. I didn't like this at first becuae I felt that this text too should be delivered in a straighfoward and direct manner, almost like a sermon. For this listen to vam Dam on the Karajan release or Schmidt with Giulini. On repeated listening I have however come to recognize the validity and sense of Hampson's (or Harnoncourt`s) intention here. It is in contrast to the "statement of fact" in the second movement. Now it isn't a choir but one single individual asking God the teach him to accept his fate, his mortality. Hampson almost speaks his text the second time around, hushed and full of reverence. In the final analysis I still prefer a more straightfoward and direct approach without pathos or forced drama combined with a less seductive vocal colour. It bothered me a bit that Hampson's German pronunciation, whilst absolutely laudable doesn't really sound like that of a native-speaker. He tends to colour his vowels, thereby reducing their impact. His "Herr" sounds like "Härr" and his "muss" (a key word in this context" is softened to "moss". In addition he swoops up to the first "dass" for some inexplicable reason. He is in fine voice throughout with no problems at the top. I know many of his recordings and admire him as a singer and artist but in this particular work I would have preferred perfect pronunciation - the text is of such central importance here. Towards the end of the movement there is another reference to a traditional musical motif - the ringing of bells. This underlies the whole last section and in Harnoncourt's interpretation it is clearer than I have ever heard it before.
Following this,at the centre of the work the purely choral "Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen", seems to me to depict a naive vision of heaven. Harnoncourt chose a slow but flexible tempo for this movement and his choir sings with a beautiful and touching tone.
In the fifth movement the personal nature of the work and its dedication to his mother becomes even clearer. "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again .... As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you." This is not a requiem in the conventional sense of a mass for the dead but one which tries to comfort the living and reconcile us with our inevitable death.
To summarize: Harnoncourt has opened my ears and heart to new aspects of this great work. He has a clear and considered conception and this makes this recording special. I am grateful for this..
Rezensentin / Rezensent