Johannes Brahms · A German Requiem
Ein deutsches Requiem Opus 45
The "London Version" (sung in German) for 2 soloists, choir and four-hand piano,
arranged by the composer, with
Heidi Elisabeth Meier (Soprano) · Josef Wagner (Baritone)
Piano Duo GrauSchumacher (Andreas Grau & Götz Schumacher)
Maulbronn Chamber Choir (Maulbronner Kammerchor)
Conductor: Jürgen Budday.
A concert recording from the German
UNESCO World Heritage Site Maulbronn Monastery
CD · DDD · Duration: c. 70 Minutes
n Good Friday, April the 10th, 1868, the world premiere of the Requiem in a six movements version was given in Bremen, Germany. Brahms himself conducted the Choral Society of Bremen, having carefully been prepared by Karl Martin Reinthaler to perfom the new release. Friends of Brahms from all over Germany were attending this occasion. Clara Schumann noted in her diary: '... This requiem deeply moved me like no other sacred music... As I saw Johannes standing there with the baton in his hand, I always had to think of my dear Robert's prophecy - let him just take the magic wand, and let him operate with an orchestra and a choir - that is fulfilling today. The baton really transformed into a magic wand and vanquished Everybody, even his most determined enemies. This was such blissfulness for me, I haven't felt so delighted in years. After the performance was a supper at the Rathskeller, where everybody jubliated - it was a celebration of music.'
After the performance in Bremen, Brahms returned to Hamburg, where he finished the work by the addition of the movement. 'You now have sadness' that was finished in the autograph of the particell with 'Hamburg May 68'. In 1869 eventually, the complete opus was performed at the 18th of February in Leipzig under the direction of Karl Reinecke. Eduard Bernsdorf, the critic of the journal 'Signals of the musical world', who ten years earlier had called the piano concerto in d-minor a piece of 'bleakly waste and drought', nowhad no choice but to acknowledge in his critique on February the 22th, 1869: '... you so have to number the questionable work of Brahms among the most important doings having been accomplished by our younger and youngest generation of composers, as well as you have to designate it the most important of the Brahmsian creations. Above all, an aspiration for the Grand and Noble does announce itself here and, coherring, the complete negation of the Ordinary and Banal...'
Johannes Brahms himself produced a four-handed version of his German Requiem for piano that was publicized first in London in 1871. The publication of simplified musical versions for piano duo was common in the 19th century, being in some respects the precursor of acoustical recording because it allowed musical amateurs to experience great works outside the concert hall by their own performance on the piano. Brahms worked on this version himself, i.a. out of the conviction that if it really had to happen, he would be the best candidate for this duty.
All in all, he considered this work as unworthy, but necessary, thus he refused noting his name as arranger on the front page, and as it happened anyhow, he ordered the exemples already printed to be recollected and added with new front pages not naming him as arranger any longer. In a letter Brahms stated ironically: 'I dedicated myself to the noble occupation of rendering my immortal creation enjoyable also for the four-handed soul. Now it can't decline.'.
Even if it obviously didn't answered the Maestro's basic idea, the piano version gives considerably more room for dynamics and therefore serves the tension of the work. Prior condition is a choir and a conductor that see an opportunity and even are challengend by the minimalism of the instrumentation in filling these deep moments with all the tension human voice is capable of. The vocal performance is enriched by the convertion of the piano version by Brahms himself, because he in person decided on the atmospheric form of his presentation. It is quite exciting to hear the chamber choir merge into word and work and having the courage of dedicating itself to the Requiem's spirit.
Recording Quality: ***** (5 out of 5)
Status: Reference Recording
Brahms' own piano reduction of his Requiem. It works wonderfully in this format and this recording is magnificently performed and recorded. This will not replace the orchestra version (and certainly was not meant to) but it allows one to hear the work in a new way...