Brahms: Choral Works / Davis, Stutzmann, Bavarian Radio

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If you can be disconcerted, I suppose it should be possible, linguistically speaking (and how else?), to be concerted. Brahms, in this sense, and taken in large doses such as are offered on these two records, is really just about the most concerted composer I know. The withering of the grass that is flesh, the "Menschenhass", the indifference of the gods to human life though it meets with disasters "like water dashed from crag to crag": in short, the worst that the Bible and the classics of his own language can throw at him, he surveys without flinching and transmutes into the goodness of finely structured, beautifully orchestrated music, eminently human yet capable of sublimity, never merely complacent but also (as it seems to me) very rarely disconcerted.

Sir Colin Davis's way with him strengthens such reactions. In the Schicksalslied his is the most serene account of Elysium and of the compatibility of Elysian security and earthly turbulence. Conductors as different from each other as Blomstedt (Decca) and Sinopoli (DG) are alike in their apparent conviction that what has to be done with this piece is to split it asunder, expose the chasm between its two worlds. Blomstedt's approach is probably philosophical, Sinopoli's dramatic, but they both go for the black and the white of it: Blomstedt takes 'Elysium' slowly and 'Earth' brutally fast and loud. Sinopoli moves in more doubtful fashion in the empyrean but then with demonic drive in the depiction of harried humanity. Davis forces nothing: he encourages neither lethargy nor wildness. Musically, his performance makes perfectly good sense of the return to calm, and all the argument about whether it constitutes an intentionally acquiescent 'happy ending' seems rather wide of the mark: musically the piece is a unity, and Davis's reading, like Brahms's composition, is thoroughly 'concerted'.

The soloist for the Alto Rhapsody is Nathalie Stutzmann, not entirely steady in her opening phrases but then deep-toned, and unusual in lightening the upper note in "der Falk der Liebe". [These performances] are gentle, both as recordings and interpretations. A bonus is the inclusion of the attractive and rarely heard Marienlieder of 1859: seven carol-like a cappella pieces, showing, among other things, the fine blend and sensitive shading of the Bavarian choir.

-- Gramophone [5/1993]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: RCA61201

  • UPC: 090266120123

  • Label: Sony

  • Composer: Johannes Brahms

  • Conductor: Sir Colin Davis

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bavarian Radio Chorus, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Nathalie Stutzmann