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Brahms A German Requiem, Sacred Song Op 30

Vasari Singers / Backhouse

Claire Seaton (soprano), Colin Campbell (baritone)

Jeremy Filsell, Roderick Chadwick (pianos)

Guild GMCD7302


I should declare an interest. In this its chamber form, I find the German Requiem simply unbearably moving; its bleakness given an affectionate intimacy, its occasional grandiosity toned down by its human, chamber scale. Any recording is to be welcomed.


The arrangement is by Brahms himself, and its first recorded English performance (and one of the first of any kind, since it took place only two years after the work was written) was well-documented to have taken place just round the corner from the Wigmore Hall in Wimpole Street .


The Vasaris are a well-established chamber choir, and their excellent ensemble and emotional commitment are very evident on this disc. They well convey the piety and plainness of Brahms' conception unrelated to the composer's own lack of religious belief. The acoustic of St Jude's gives a resonant, churchy feel that can, however, be at odds with the chamber scale. At times also, such as at the famous ‘Death is swallowed up in victory' moment, the very simplicity of the performance means the structural direction and flow, as opposed to the technical control, are wayward.


One big caveat. In an unfortunate ‘ London bus' phenomenon, where ‘two have come along at once,' Accentus made a recording only three months before this one in 2003 and it was issued much sooner (Naïve V4956).


The French version is far superior to this one in absolutely every way, except for the equally fine choral singing. Engerer and Beresovsky play the piano part in an immeasurably more sensitive, less clunky fashion, whereas Filsell and Chadwick sound like accompanists; Piau and Debout are far better singers than Seaton and Campbell. The French recording also has much more detail, helped by a precise, dry acoustic. Equilbey's broader tempi allow a more intense, spiritually convincing approach than Backhouse's and mean that the climaxes are not gabbled. The faster English speeds however allow the inclusion of an interesting filler, the Geistliches Lied from 1856, ten years or so before, that illuminate the consistency of Brahms' choral writing.


Ying Chang