“Abbado’s approach to Brahms is generally direct, but his control of rhythm and phrase makes the performance instantly compelling” – The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs
This collection of short choral pieces by Johannes Brahms is an unusual one in present times, partly because many of the choral parts are quite demanding. For a choral club in the 19th century, however, it wouldn't have been so novel, and there are great beauties on offer here. After the fetching Ave Maria, Op. 12, the rest of the program is dense, metaphysical, and, with the partial exception of the Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53, concerned with death. There are two funeral songs, and two more about fate, and this is not the warm, humanistic Brahms of the German Requiem, Op. 45. The performances are profound and dignified, and the overall effect uncanny. The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir under choirmaster Henryk Wojnarowski has a gorgeous rich tone that is undiminished by the long lines of the music, and the Alto Rhapsody achieves real grandeur in the hands of contralto Ewa Wolak. But the real credit goes to the Warsaw Philharmonic and conductor Antoni Wit, who keep a consistent level of tension and momentum in difficult, dark material like the somber Nänie, Op. 82 (Funeral Song), a rarely performed late Brahms masterwork.
…The mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg sings warmly in the celebrated the Alto Rhapsody, while Herreweghe makes the Song of Destiny a powerful and compelling experience, with both line and texture beautifully judged. All these compositions are masterpieces - did Brahms ever compose anything less than a masterpiece? Another work that is less well known is the ambitious unaccompanied motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben, in which the singing of the Collegium Vocale could hardly be bettered in communicating the music's extraordinary subtleties of counterpoint.
"…The program she presents here is terrific: the Wesendonk Lieder and Zemlinsky songs are pretty common in recitals, but I know of no other recital disc where the “Song of the Wood Dove” from Schoenberg’s massive Gurrelieder appears, and the Brahms Alto Rhapsody is similarly rarely recorded outside of complete Brahms sets. Pecková, whose voice is a hair light for all the music here (she sings Rosina and Cherubino, and the lighter soprano role of Varvara in Katya Kabanova), does much of the program proud…" ~classicstoday
Otto Klemperer's Brahms needs no introduction. It remains a classic reference edition, one of the very few complete cycles with absolutely no weak links. It's customary to call these performances "granitic", an adjective that certainly applies to the First Symphony but doesn't begin to describe the swift and thrilling finale of the Fourth, the grand but impulsive Third (with its first-movement repeat in place), or the warmly lyrical Second. In general Klemperer's unsentimental but always gripping approach to this music practically defines the word "idiomatic". The Alto Rhapsody with Christa Ludwig also is one of the great ones, while the shorter works share the same virtues as the symphonies.
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.