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Johannes Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem
16 Feb 2007

BRAHMS: Ein deutsches Requiem

In dedicating much of his creative life to the Thomaskirche, the German musician Günther Ramin left his mark on the musical life of Leipzig, and his legacy includes a fine recording of Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, op. 45.

Johannes Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

Agnes Giebel, Gerhard Neise, Thomanenchor Leipzig, Gewandhasorchester Leipzig, Günther Ramin, conductor.

Archipel 0289 [CD]

$11.99  Click to buy

Recorded live on 1 April 1954, this previously unreleased performance makes Ramin’s efforts available half a century after his death in 1956.

Those familiar with some modern performances of this work should notice the somewhat meditative tempos that Ramin used in this work. The opening conveys, for example, a more atmospheric approach to the work, which is borne out in the choral textures that are evident in this recording. Monaural by nature, the orchestral forces seem subdued, with the choral forces more prominent than usual. It is not an unwelcome result, since the chorus is remarkably nuanced, with the boys’ voices evincing a pure and solid tone that uniquely colors the performance.

Ramin’s tempos with the first movement tend to be slower than usual, with the pacing of the second movement seeming more marchlike in character. The quiet opening of the movement conveys a sense of emotional distance that Ramin brings into his interpretation of this work. The austere sonorities offer a different perspective than some give the work, thus reflecting the more classically oriented side of Brahms, even within this less-than-traditional treatment of a Requiem, with its idiosyncratic texts chosen from Scripture in lieu of the conventional Latin Mass.

The third movement is particularly revealing for the interplay between textures, with the solo parts taken by the baritone Gerhard Niese. Niese’s performance is laudable, but sometimes overshadowed by the choral forces that weave around the baritone part in this concerto-like movement in which the text of Psalm 39 resolves, as it were in the verse from the book of Wisdom, with its assurance of salvation for the just soul. In this movement, the counterpoint is nicely clear, and it is in such places that the weaknesses of the original recording medium are apparent. For some reason the sound improves with “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen,” perhaps the best-known section of Brahms’ Requiem, and quite effective in Ramin’s treatment of the music. Near the end of the work, in the sixth movement, the concluding section “Herr, du bist würdig” is contrastingly more extroverted, with Ramin bringing out the spiritual assurances implicit in Brahms work.

As a live performance, some ambient sounds are part of the recording, most from the activity on or near the podium. Audience noise is rare, with the clicking of a baton emerging from time to time to punctuate the choral timbres. A performance like this may never supplant the famous one by Klemperer, but Ramin’s stands well on its own merits. Given the fame of the Thomaskirche and the historically important role of its cantor, this recording offers a fine glimpse into the musical traditions there in the mid-twentieth century.

James Zychowicz

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