We easily recognise Brahms the symphonist and chamber musician. But while the German Requiem has long been a mainstay of the choral repertoire, Brahms’s significance as a composer of music for chorus and orchestra has long been overlooked.

In recent years John Eliot Gardiner has made a point of pairing the symphonies with choral pieces that, he believes, presage “the intrinsic vocality at the heart of [Brahms’s] writing for orchestra”.

Despite his often wrong-headed way with the symphonies, those choral recordings were a revelation, so it is disappointing to have to report that his new German Requiem – the second time he has recorded it with the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique – is not on the same level.

Neither of the soloists, Katharine Fuge nor Matthew Brook, seems suited to Brahms warm sound. Although the choral singing is superb (especially in the two Schütz motets that make a stylistic preface), much of the Requiem has a disconcerting ring – partly because of Gardiner’s quirky phrasing and pacing, and partly because he highlights all sorts of strange instrumental voices. It’s as if, in his desire to rid Brahms of stodginess, he loses sight of the consistencies at the heart of the music.

2 stars

Brahms

Ein deutsches Requiem

John Eliot Gardiner

(Soli Deo Gloria)

Philippe Herreweghe’s disc includes the Song of Destiny, the Alto Rhapsody (Ann Hallenberg) and the quasi-Lutheran Begräbnisgesang. Despite the obvious French schooling of the Collegium Vocale Gent and Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, these are serene, handsomely blended performances.

3 stars

Brahms

Works for chorus and orchestra

Philippe Herreweghe

(Phi, Outhere)

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