Among the major choral-orchestral works of the 19th century, Sir Roger Norrington and his former Orchestra, the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, have tackled over the years, now finally comes Brahms' "German Requiem." one of the most beautiful and popular sacred music works in the repertoire. Brahms’ contemporaries, including his close friend Clara Schumann were moved with the score and were enthusiastic about it - and it has been a favorite with the general public ever since. Although Biblical texts are used, the piece is not in the standard church-liturgical tradition. It was Brahms‘personal response to "those who mourn"! The central idea of this masterpiece is the reality of human existence. It is precisely this „earthly character“ that Roger Norrington uses to shape his interpretation emphasizing the grave beautify of the music and not religious awe; in this, Norrington draws us close to the composer’s intentions. He is ably supported by soprano soloist Christina Landshamer, basso Florian Boesch, SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and the NDR.
Brahms’s two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, composed in 1894, were followed only by the four Serious Songs and a set of organ chorale preludes (some of which may have been written at earlier times). His farewell to chamber music was also his farewell gift to the clarinet. The two works recorded here were preceded by the Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op 114) and the great Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op 115), and all four masterpieces were inspired by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Orchestra.
The old model for creating a hit classical recording – big-name soloist plus big-name conductor in major repertory work – is not so common anymore, but this live Brahms recording from the Staatskapelle Berlin under Venezuela's Gustavo Dudamel, with Argentine-Israeli-Palestinian-Spanish pianist Daniel Barenboim as soloist, shows that there's life in the concept yet. One could point to the virtues of pianist and conductor separately: it's a rare septuagenarian who can combine power and clear articulation of detail the way Barenboim does, and Dudamel builds a vast sweep in, especially, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. But it's the way that the two work together that really makes news. Chalk it up to shared South American heritage or to whatever the listener wants, but the way the orchestra and piano define separate spheres and work them together is extraordinary. Again, it is in the Piano Concerto No. 1 and its Beethovenian drama that their mutual understanding is most evident, but there is a sense of great variety powerfully unified throughout.
All three of Brahms’ string quartets appear in this 2-CD set, along with his piano quintet, recorded live at the Vienna Konzerthaus, where Elisabeth Leonskaja joined the members of the Alban Berg Quartett. The ensemble’s name honours the continuity and vigour of Vienna’s long musical tradition, which reached one of its Romantic highpoints with these chamber masterworks, composed in the 1860s and 1870s.
This release sees Murray Perahia returning to Brahms after a significant series of excellent Bach recordings for Sony Classical. His 1991 Sony recording of the Sonata No.3 has an assortment of Intermezzos and Rhapsodies as a filler, but this new disc sees Perahia taking the later opus numbers head-on, working up to them chronologically via the Handel Variations and Rhapsodies Op.79 which, as Katrin Eich says in her booklet notes, each represent an ‘end point’ at certain stages in Brahms’ compositional output.
Brahms (1833-97) devoted much of the 1880s to his three Piano Trios, having decided, as he told a friend, that there was “no further point in attempting an opera or a marriage”. They are among his less familiar chamber works. He originally wrote No 1 as a young man, overhauling it more than three decades later in 1889. All three works – the B major Op 8, C major Op 87 and C minor Op 101 – have a tender, shadowy intensity, without quite the same heart-on-sleeve fervour of the bigger chamber works. The string players here – brother and sister Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff – are regular quartet partners. Together with sensitive pianism from Lars Vogt, ensemble is alert, accurate, never forced: already a favourite CD.
Apart from the Takacs Quartet, whose spirited, youthful account for Hungaroton/Conifer (4/88) of Schumann's three quartets was marred by inferior recorded sound, no single group has as yet given us either a complete Schumann or Brahms quartet cycle on CD—and certainly not a composite set of all six works. So all gratitude to the Melos Quartet for filling the gap. Their playing is immediately enjoyable for its warmth, its rhythmic impulse and its very positive directness. To try and place it in sharper perspective I've nevertheless taken the liberty of comparing the two discs with my cherished old LP set of the same works from the Quartetto Italiano (Philips—nla). For even though this has recently been deleted, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find it back in the shops, digitally remastered, before too long.
Maxim Vengerov now confronts - and conquers - one of the supreme challenges all great violinists must face: The Brahms violin concerto. This beautiful, virtuosic work has defined careers from Heifetz to Perlman. Vengerov's turn has come, and his rich, burnished tone and impassioned phrasing make this one of the standout concerto CDs of the year. The soulful partnership of Vengerov and Barenboim (one of his most important mentors) is also a strong selling point.