Brahms, Symphony No. 4 (inter alia), Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, J. E. Gardiner
(released on September 28, 2010)
SDG 705 | 70'52"
To make the case for the older music that marked Brahms, Gardiner programmed the fourth symphony with Beethoven's Coriolan overture, which is given a forthright, even forceful reading that says a lot about what Brahms was after in his own work. The earlier music selections, performed with accustomed suavity and incision by Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir, are much more in the conductor's wheelhouse. Schütz's Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? and two movements from Bach's Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich shed light on one of Brahms's own sacred pieces, the achingly lovely Lass dich nur nichts nicht dauern, which uses a devotional text similar to the ones favored by Bach. Lass dich is one of my favorite pieces of liturgical music, performed often with the choir at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and Gardiner presents it in his own appropriately beautiful orchestration. Likewise, Giovanni Gabrieli's triple choir (12-part) Sanctus and Benedictus are imitated in Brahms's less fetching but still beautiful Fest- und Gedenksprüche, for unaccompanied double choir. That all of these selections are presented in a symmetrical order, with the Brahms work mirroring its corresponding model, adds to the pleasure of this disc, no less than the attractive, bound-book packaging.
Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, G. Kühmeier, T. Hampson, Vienna Philharmonic, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, N. Harnoncourt
(released on February 1, 2011)
RCA/Sony 88697720662 | 72'01"
Harnoncourt's approach is not standard HIP, as he stays close to the forces Brahms used at the work's premiere, that is, a rather large orchestra and chorus. The piece was intended for and has remained in the concert hall rather than the church, but there are indications that Brahms favored a smaller performing force than he had for the premiere. Harnoncourt focuses his "authentic" aims on the metronome markings that Brahms, rather unusually, attached to the movements of the German Requiem, as well as an attempt to recreate the rubato, sometimes intense but with a sense of "discretion," that Brahms envisioned. I am not an outright Harnoncourt detractor, but he is not one of the HIP conductors whom I really admire. His take on the German Requiem is a little deliberate, including some plodding tempo choices, as in the "Die Erlöseten des Herrn" section of the second movement. Likewise, Denn wir haben hier opens rather slow and quiet, and the sound of the last trumpet is similarly on the reserved side, tempo-wise, making its point with heavy accents and amassed sound rather than a driving pace. At times, the singers and orchestra are not always quite together, but all the components sound very good, and Harnoncourt's insistent touch brings out things like the brass statements of the fugue subject in the second movement. Low brass accents on that famous repeated pedal point in "Der gerechten Seelen," at the end of the third movement, give that music propulsion rather than the steady stasis often favored by other conductors.