Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Herbert von Karajan – Brahms – Ein Deutsches Requiem

   Johannes Brahms was one of most prominent personalities in romantic music. His position was build on the idea of three great B’s – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms – presumption deeply correlated with nineteenth century theoretic understanding of formal values in musical construction. And Brahms was number one composer who can melt some romantic ideas with creating complex musical constructions in Beethoven’s manner. It’s not sure if he was truly satisfied composing symphonic music. Four symphonies, three concertos, two overtures even if every one is great work, is not too much considering 64 years of composers life. However the symphonic compositions was the part of his work that made his fame and creative image, and among his great works every one fully deserves for its special place.
   One that’s very special is requiem based on texts from Lutheran Bible. The full title of the work is Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift op. 45 (A German Requiem, To Words of the Holy Scriptures). The text has been edited by composer and is opposed to the traditional requiem based on roman catholic mass order. Words had been taken from some fragments from Old and much more  from New Testament. Sometimes he assembled very short fragments. Ein Deutsches Requiem is focusing on those who are living in sadness and this strongly difference between this setup and traditional requiem masses. Brahms started composing this work in 1965 after death of his mother and finish the whole composition in 1868. This seven-movement work composed for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra German Requiem with more than an hour time of duration is longest composition by Brahms.

Herbert von Karajan – Brahms – Ein Deutsches Requiem (1964)

   Herbert von Karajan recorded Brahms’ Requiem at least five times. First time he recorded in October 1947 legendary performance with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, baritone Hans Hotter, chor of Singverein Der Gesellschaft Der Musikfreunde Wien and Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra. Then in 1964 for Deutsche Grammophon with baritone Eberhard Waechter, soprano Gundula Janowitz, Wiener Singverein choir and Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra. This recording was also published in 7 LP box with complete Brahms Symphonies and Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras. Third recording has been made twelve years later, in 1976 for EMI with the same choir and orchestra and with different soloists – soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow and baritone José van Dam. Fourth recording was digital and was recorded with the same chorus but with Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra and with soprano Barbara Hendricks and with baritone José van Dam. There was also video recording of Deutsches Requiem with Kathleen Battle and José van Dam published in 1984 by Sony.


   Herbert von Karajan belongs to the greatest conductors who needed a large-scale works, big performing sets and challenging interpretations to be fully recognized as the great masters. He was equally efficient conducting symphonies, concertos, oratorios and operas. No wonder he is remembered mainly as the conductor of huge attainments of romantic music. One of his most challenging works was Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. Maybe this is reason he recorded this work so many times. It’s interesting he always recorded with the same choir of Wiener Singverein. Brahms Requiem is work of extremely high demands on the performers and choir is privileged in various ways. And this choir sounds unbelievable firmly and rich. The 1964 DGG recording has been priced by Grand prix du disque award in Paris.
   In Karajan’s renditions Deutsches Requiem takes 65-75 minutes and perfectly matches CD capacity, but on traditional vinyl records it usually took three standard sides. Thus for Brahms’ Requiem vinyl editions publishers added extra compositions on 4th side of double LP album. On Karajan’s DGG album such bonus work was Variationen über ein Thema von Haydn op. 56a, and on EMI album newly recorded Variationen and Tragishe ouverture. Although the choice of Variations is quite good thanks to its solemn character and soothing emotional distance, I still advise not to listening this two works together. Karajan’s performance of Deutsches Requiem is so much closed, so perfectly follows the idea of the work, it should be listened standalone.

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