James Levine / Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

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Light, sweet, and ephemeral, James Levine's 1983 recording of Brahms' Ein deutsche Requiem is absolutely and unequivocally an enormous mistake.

Brahms' Requiem is luminous but it is not light. It is compassionate but it is not sweet. Its texts deal with the transience of life but it is anything but ephemeral. And yet, Levine's Brahms' Requiem is resolutely superficial, never plumbing the abysmal depths or reaching the transcendent heights of the music, his tone is sentimentally sweet, never touching the heart of the pity and terror or the consoling and blessedness of Brahms' music, and his interpretation is quintessentially ephemeral, never profound or humane, never as inevitable as death and immeasurable as infinity. Kathleen Battle is charming in the fourth movement. Håkan Hagegård is amiable in the third and sixth movements. The Chicago Symphony sounds like it has taken the day off with pay. Only Margaret Hillis' Chicago Symphony Chorus sounds dedicated to the music. RCA's early digital recording is still small and hard in this remastering. Stick with the Klemperer with Schwarzkopf and Fischer-Dieskau, than, now, and always, the most luminous, the most compassionate, and the most eternal of all recordings of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem.

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