Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem / Paavo Jarvi, Natalie Dessay, Ludovic Tezier

Release Date: 05/03/2011
Label: Virgin Classics Catalog #: 28610
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Performer: Natalie Dessay, Ludovic Tézier
Conductor: Paavo Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble: Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Swedish Radio Choir
Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS German Requiem • Paavo Järvi, cond; Natalie Dessay (sop); Ludovic Tézier (bar); Swedish RCh; Frankfurt RSO • VIRGIN 509996286100 7 (72:17)

I have reviewed almost a dozen of the almost 90 available recordings of the Brahms Requiem, with varying positive and negative opinions about their performance qualities. This brings me to a point of self-questioning. What am I (or what have I been) looking for objectively in judging the quality of a performance of this magnificent and monumental work?

Paavo Järvi’s direction of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish Radio Chorus serve the cause of clarity extremely well. Where the third movement concludes with a complex fugue, choral detail is discernable, and the very beautiful violin-section line comes through with precision. The opening movement (“Selig sind, die da Leid tragen”) and the final movement as its complement (“Selig sind die Toten”) are played with moving reverence. The appearance of “Aber des Herrn Wort” ( Un poco sostenuto ) later in the second movement quickens one’s pulse. Baritone Ludovic Tézier’s voice is strong and vibrant in the third and sixth movements. And in the sixth movement (“Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt”) the Vivace at bar 82 (“Denn es wird die Posaune schallen”) is powerfully and incisively delivered by orchestra and chorus.

A cross section of nationalities is present on this disc. The conductor is Estonian-American, the soloists are French, the chorus is Swedish-based, and the orchestra is German-based. This is reflective of the internationality of this music.

The one negative aspect of this performance is the quality of Natalie Dessay’s voice. She uses her soprano coloratura to produce a strong vibrato, which is inappropriate to this music. Although she is always on pitch, her “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” becomes increasingly unattractive, and at “wiedersehen” at the end of the movement she sounds at once lugubrious and yodeling. Chalk this up to my personal aversion to strong vocal vibrato!

The positive aspects of this performance far outweigh the single negative. Järvi and his forces have something new and worthwhile to say here—a subjective judgment that complements my objective considerations. This is a Brahms Requiem up there with the best, among them those under Klemperer, Rattle, and Tennstedt.

Works on This Recording

German Requiem, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms
Performer: Natalie Dessay (Soprano), Ludovic Tézier (Baritone)
Conductor: Paavo Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble: Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Swedish Radio Choir
Period: Romantic
Written: 1854-1868; Austria

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