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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

Naxos 8.563061

Ein Deutsches Requiem

Christiane Libor, soprano
Thomas E. Bauer, baritone
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Naxos 8.563061 75:15
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Also available on Pure Audio Blu-ray Naxos NBD0039:
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The collector of classical music comes to understand that disc timings aren't always what they seem, and sometimes they are. At over 75 minutes, this Requiem is over five minutes slower than Klemperer's classic EMI reading, and a whopping 14 more than the same conductors' monophonic ICA rendition. But an overall timing is often more about flexible pulse than it is about speed, and thankfully, that's what we have here. Antoni Wit and his Warsaw forces have already tackled some of the largest and most challenging choral works of the last few hundred years, and this album unquestionably maintains a high artistic standard.

The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir outdo themselves, with some especially fabulous singing that is worth the price of the disc alone. As for the orchestral contributions, Wit uncovers all sorts of wonderful details in the low strings and winds, his expansive vision allowing for a huge emotional expressive range. Despite the deceivingly slow track times, nothing ever drags or feels inert, and Wit maintains a real depth of feeling throughout. The slow tempos also mean that when Wit does choose to speed up a touch, the results are all the more grand and exciting. Attention to dynamics, especially in the singing, is simply tremendous. This is really moving.

Baritone Thomas E. Bauer is magnificent in his solo turns, he rings out confidently and is well-recorded to boot. In soprano Christiane Libor we have a singer who seems comfortable with her very taxing assignment. I prefer her voice to many others who have taken on the role. And again, Antoni Wit is undaunted by large choral works. His Mahler Symphony #8 was an unexpected triumph, largely thanks to his ability to manage his forces well. We have the same formula here, a very difficult piece, often done very poorly or indifferently, and Wit proves an ideal guide. He also makes sure that the work doesn't simply fall asleep at the end; this isn't the world's most exciting Requiem ever written, and so requires a steady hand attuned to the emotional peaks and valleys that define the piece and the music. We get that and more here.

My only concern is the timing of this release. Marin Alsop recorded the work only a few years ago, a swift and very satisfying version that gave Naxos a very fine entry in the Brahms discography and a compliment to her generally good cycle of the composer's symphonies. Meanwhile, this disc is supposedly being marketed to complement Wit's well-regarded disc of the composer's choral works. But since Alsop is already on the market, at the same price, in generally excellent sound, it all seems rather silly. Yes, Wit is certainly more expansive, and maybe he has the more idiomatic choral forces (in the rather irrelevant sense that they are Western European), but I don't like hitting the consumer with a new rendition so soon. Editorial complaints aside, this is both heartfelt and rewarding.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman

Trumpet