Brahms' Requiem

Casket with roses

Megan Weston, Soprano
Glenn Guhr, Baritone
Michael Fennelly, Piano
Andrés Peláez, Piano

When Johannes Brahms penned Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), he found marvelous expression for the two faces of grief: anxiety and hope. The Cascadian Chorale presents the version accompanied by piano four-hands, arranged by the composer himself for the work’s premiere in England. Sung in German, the power of this music needs no translation.

Saturday March 21, 2009
7:30 p.m.

St. Margaret's Episcopal Church
4228 Factoria Boulevard SE
Bellevue, Washington

Sunday March 22, 2009
2:30 p.m.

Trinity Parish Episcopal Church
609 Eighth Avenue
Seattle, Washington


See program notes by Troy Peters from a previous performance by the Chorale.

Recommended Recordings by Gary Cannon, Artistic Director

Brahms's Requiem has been recorded dozens of times, and no survey can hope to reflect every hidden gem in the catalogue. Of the many that I have heard and explored, there are three that I would not want to be without, each for very different reasons.

Otto Klemperer's 1961 version remains the most balanced Brahms Requiem I know. The recording is particularly blessed by the angelic soprano of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's dramatic baritone. It is said that Klemperer was a difficult man to work with: moody, manic, easy to anger. Perhaps that personality helped him to bring out the dramatic elements of the Requiem, but this is not to the detriment of the work's comforting qualities as well. The Klemperer has been the gold standard of Brahms Requiems for decades, and there is no reason to look elsewhere.

Amazon.com: Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem [A German Requiem]; Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

How fondly I recall the live performances which led to this recording. For choral aficionados who want a second opinion, I recommend Herbert Blomstedt's 1993 account with the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. The true gem of this recording is the masterful choral singing. Vance George prepares his huge chorus to have the agility and unity of thought that generally only small ensembles can hope to achieve. There is a sense that each choir member is perfectly attuned to Brahms, and sings as a soloist with intent to comfort the listener. True, I may be slightly biased, but I've still never heard a symphonic chorus sound so personal.

Amazon.com: Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem; Herbert Blomstedt, Vance George, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Wolfgang Holzmair, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz

Rather than using a full orchestra, we have chosen to perform the work with Brahms's own accompaniment reduced for two pianists. There are a few recordings out there of this version, for those interested in hearing our goal. The only one I can recommend without hesitation is sung by the superb French chamber choir, Accentus. Laurence Equilbey had led her ensemble from strength to strength in recent years, and this is among my favorite of their recordings. Accentus also has the advantage of two exceptional solo pianists: Brigitte Engerer and Boris Berezovsky.

Amazon.com: Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem; Brigitte Engerer, Boris Berezovsky, Laurence Equilbey, Accentus

Naturally, there are other fine recordings which are worthy of mention. Gramophone magazine's recent retrospective of the Requiem's recorded history highlighted Frieder Bernius and his outstanding Kammerchor Stuttgart. Simon Rattle's recent recording has gained much critical acclaim, and has the most modern recorded sound. Roger Norrington's period-instrument ensemble is illuminating. While those accounts do have much to recommend them, Bernius's orchestral sound is too spare for my taste, Rattle takes matters a bit too objectively, and Norrington's normal élan doesn't transfer well to this composition. For a well-balanced and heart-wrenching approach to Brahms's most balanced and wrenching work, Klemperer, Blomstedt and Equilbey do not disappoint.