Gesang der Parzen, Op.89
Alto Rhapsody, Op.53
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg between 10-13 March 2009
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: February 2010
CD No: TUDOR 7167
Duration: 48 minutes
This intelligently planned album offers an attractive collection of Brahms’s most substantial works for chorus and orchestra apart from “Ein deutsches Requiem” (A German Requiem). That the four works presented here are less well-known than the monumental ‘Requiem’ has more to do with the perceived awkwardness of programming them in a concert (with none longer than 15 minutes) than in any musical inferiority, for each work demonstrating as much powerful, intimate and sublime music as anything in the ‘Requiem’.
The additional fact that these performances are of such a high standard makes this release a very enjoyable experience. Robin Ticciati conjures such a warm glow from the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra that the initial moments of the opening piece, “Nänie”, with its gloriously mellow oboe solo, are instantly entrancing. The first chorus entry, emerging with mesmerising beauty, gently grows through a superbly maintained line into a radiant full bloom.
The Bavarian Radio Chorus – a professional group of around 40 singers, an ideal size for this repertoire – is one of the recording’s principal assets. Its full-bodied, immaculately focused sound has a sumptuous, velvety depth that is sheer joy to the ears and which does Brahms’s music the fullest justice. Diction is also very impressive: the hushed opening of the dramatic “Song of the Fates”, following a turbulent orchestral section, is so impeccably precise and intense as to send a shiver down the spine (“Es fürchte die Götter Das Menschengeschlect!” – “Let mankind fear the gods!”).
The 27-year-old Ticciati, one of the most exciting upcoming talents around at the moment, shows great sensitivity and love for these scores. His pacing is finely-judged, with a good instinct for when to linger (though never over-indulge) and when to press onwards, which displays insightful understanding. The four pieces are treated as though they were movements of a single work (a feeling compounded by the very short gaps between them on the disc; some listeners may have preferred more breathing space). This concept succeeds well: the individual works are sufficiently varied in character, while similar enough to feel plausibly part of a coherent whole.
Placed third in the ‘cycle’ is probably the most well-known of the four: the “Alto Rhapsody” with male chorus. Alice Coote is an engaging soloist. Her honeyed voice, though not the most opulent to have recorded the work, is well-nuanced and admirably clear, capturing the deep sense of longing in Goethe’s text and Brahms’s heartfelt music with great allure. Rich cellos and basses provide soulful weight.
“Song of Destiny” – arguably the work closest in character to “Ein deutsches Requiem”, with its long flowing themes, ethereal opening underpinned by solemn timpani beats, and tempestuous central section – forms a fitting conclusion, rivetingly performed.
With a total playing time of just under 50 minutes, this is not the most-well-filled of discs, but its integrity is such that few will mind. Each work is given an impressive account, but when listened to as a whole the album provides an intensely rewarding experience.