Roger Norrington

Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

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Traditions have formed around Johannes Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem, primarily in conductors' preferences for slow tempos and large vocal and instrumental forces, so that the conventional interpretation tends toward solemnity and reverence. Yet Roger Norrington's lean, sharply articulated, and streamlined rendition with the Radio-Sinfonieorchester des SWR, the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, and the NDR Choir purports to be closer to what Brahms would have desired, based on his originally indicated tempos and the small number of choral and orchestral parts he used in his performances. Yet it helps to remember that Brahms later removed the metronome markings and never specified the number of singers and players in the score, so the pursuit of a historically informed version may be a moot point. Norrington's attempts at authenticity in 19th century works have been controversial, not necessarily because he uses historically attested techniques and seating arrangements, which are valid, but because his interpretations are often clinical and stiff, and too restrained in expression. In this reading of Ein deutsches Requiem, the sound of the orchestra is a little too glossy and Baroque, and the dynamics are almost terraced, suggesting that Norrington might think of this work as belated Bach, rather than the full-blooded music of a Romantic. But in spite of Norrington's somewhat dry and affectless handling of the orchestra, the combined choirs offer nuanced singing, and the sublime solos of soprano Christina Landshamer and bass Florian Boesch give the work a human connection. In the end, this recording will appeal most to Norrington's admirers, but most connoisseurs of Ein deutsches Requiem will look elsewhere for a satisfactory version.

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