London Philharmonic Orchestra / Yannick Nézet-Séguin / Stéphane Degout / Elizabeth Watts

Brahms: A German Requiem

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Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in a luminous, expansive performance of Brahms' German Requiem recorded live in 2009, during Nézet-Séguin's first season as the orchestra's principal guest conductor. The conductor's conception is notable for creating a sense of breadth and serenity while maintaining a purposefulness and momentum that never allow the long lines to sag; it's a beautifully executed balancing act that allows the work to unfold with the spaciousness and grandeur it needs to make its maximum impact. Nézet-Séguin's opening of the first movement, for example, is a marvel of limpid, celestially tranquil assurance that at the same time has an almost throbbing sense of life. The choir, prepared by Neville Creed, and the orchestra respond to the conductor's flexible lead with sensitivity and deliver radiant, nuanced performances. Soloists soprano Elizabeth Watts and baritone Stéphane Degout sing with supple, deeply felt expressiveness and with tonal purity and fullness. While they may not possess the distinctiveness that characterizes some of most memorable performances of the piece, their singing is never less than exemplary.

Unfortunately, the sound, which is overall somewhat distant, is a drawback to the album's appeal. The performers are miked at a low level that requires a considerable boost in volume to bring the sound up to a normal listening range. The sound is also noticeably lacking in warmth and is unforgivingly bright, which is a particular shame since it is evident that Nézet-Séguin and his players and singers are performing with ample warmth.

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