Brahms Requiem

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Berlin Philharmonic concert: Brahms Requiem.  Conductor: Herbert von Karajan; soloists Gundula Janowitz, soprano; José van Dam, bass. Recorded at a live performance in Salzburg, 1978.

Despite Karajan’s well-known flamboyance, the performance was musically sober, precise, beautifully done by orchestra, soloists, and chorus from Vienna.  No unorthodox tempi, no departure from standard dynamics, as fine a performance as I’ve ever heard. (I’ve sung the piece in the chorus in New Orleans, and also in Boston in college under Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony.)

Theatrically, as you might expect, there were unusual touches. While the orchestra were in the customary white tie, the irrepressible conductor alone wore a white turtle-neck, and the camera was most often on him, with his silver-white pompadour spotlighted, but his gestures (without baton) were relatively restrained.  The soloists and the chorus sang without scores — unusual in my experience; after extensive rehearsals, you do get to know the score pretty well by heart, but I never saw or participated in a performance where the chorus had no scores, and their lineup was, I thought, unnecessarily theatrical.

This concert was just added to the Berlin Philharmonic Archive. To get it, go to the Berliner Philharmoniker website, fork over your € 10, and hit Play.  Highly recommended.

Thomas B. Lemann

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