Zum Konzert am 29. August 1972 in Edinburgh

The Scotsman, 30. August 1972 

Barenboim’s individual touch in Requiem

Ein Deutsches Requiem: Usher Hall

After a period of what, by Brahmsian standards, must count as neglect, the German Requiem is in circulation again. Of the recent upsurge of performances, some of the most individual have been those conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

It is a work which suits well the Furtwängler side of his personality, inspiring him to present the music not so much as a dilute piece of Victorianism (which in Britain is has always tended to be, especially when sung in English translation) but as a big, emotional Viennese choral symphony – the one completely non-conformist symphony Brahms wrote.

The Furtwängler side of Mr. Barenboim’s personality is also revealed in the way his interpretation of a work is never precisely "fixed" – each performance is a different experience. Last night’s, the first of two he is giving in Edinburgh this week, differed in many ways from those he gave last month at the Israel Festival, and not just because the performance this time was given by a different chorus, orchestra and soloists in a different hall before a different public.

All these, of course, must have had some effect on his treatment of the music, but not surely on his decision (to mention only one small yet memorable detail) to reduce the impact of the drum-whacks leading up to the first big fortissimo in "All flesh is as grass," which in Israel had thundered out like dark pronouncements of doom. But that is not to say it was a lightweight performance this time. Indeed in general it seemed a weightier reading, and perhaps even broader, though also perhaps at times less intense and less moving in its impact.


Some of the weight (and the most unfortunate part of it) was supplied by the Usher Hall organ, which was recklessly brought into service and succeeded in throbbing thickly through the requiem’s magical opening bars and ruining every subsequent passage on to which its out-of-tune tones were plastered. When Deutsche Grammophon make rheir recording with the same performers next weekend, at least it will take place at a safe distance from the Usher Hall.

More enjoyably weighty was the singing (in German) of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, splendidly full-bodied in the ringing fugues and capable of sustaining Brahms’s noble tunes at the spacious tempi favoured by the conductor. On the other hand, the woodwind of the London Philharmonic were neither so eloquently gleaming nor so precise as they should have been in their very important role, though Mr. Barenboim succeeded in extracting some sensitive playing from the strings.


Edith Mathis and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau were the soloists, she producing delicate, cool, exquisitely-spun (but somewhat fluttery) phrases, he impressively valedictory. The performance was preceded by two short Bruckner motets, which neatly stressed that though he and Brahms had opposite ideas on religion their musical language was not so different as was once thought.

Conrad Wilson

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