The music comforts, calms, suggests hope, whilst still acknowledging the tragedy of...
Charlotte Gardner 2007
Brahms was in his forties before he completed his first symphony, and goodness knows what other symphonic achievements he might have had, had he not been cowered into silence by the ghost of Beethoven for so many years. Lucky for us, though, that he wasn't similarly scared off writing large choral works. It is extraordinary to think that this Requiem was his first major composition, written when he was only in his thirties, such is its physical and emotional magnitude. Happily, on the whole, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Radio Choir have done it justice with an arresting and powerful recording.
Brahms claimed he could have named this his Human Requiem, with its focus on comforting the living, and this is particularly apt for the first movement. The music comforts, calms, suggests hope, whilst still acknowledging the tragedy of death, and under Simon Rattle's baton the choir and orchestra have got to the heart of it; they bring out all the nuances of emotion, and one feels they really understand it. Strangely, however, the second movement Denn alles Fleisch, es wie in Gras proves to be the one blip in the performance. Whatever connection the performers felt in the previous movement has gone and, despite the drama in the score, it sounds almost one-dimensional. Thank goodness, then, for the baritone Thomas Quasthoff's soulful Herr, lehre doch mich. The chorus and orchestra take his lead, and they keep up the emotional momentum through the balming Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen. There is more soloist pleasure to be had in the exquisite "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit"; the fact that Brahms was prompted to write the Requiem upon the death of his mother adds especial importance to this fifth movement, as it is only here that a mother's comfort is explicitly referred to. Dorothea Roschmann's beautiful, rich soprano voice delivers the impassioned tenderness the listener craves. The sense of connection between musicians and music continues for the remainder of the Requiem so, all in all, this is a great performance and I think we can forgive Rattle his second movement wobble.