Zum Konzert am 15. März 1972 in London

     The Times, London,  17. März 1972     

A German Requiem

Royal Festival Hall


Brahms’s A German Requiem is now so much in the nature of an old master that you tend to forget the composer was only in his early thirties when he wrote it, and not yet universally recognized as an immortal.

So it was particularly interesting to hear the work from someone as young as Daniel Barenboim at Wednesday’s Royal Philharmonic Society concert, with the BBC orchestra, chorus and choral society to uphold Fischer-Dieskau and Sheila Armstrong.

Mr. Barenboim ran intotrouble at the start with excessively slow tempo. It was not easy for the singers to hold their pitch at this speed, or to avoid hissing over sibilants. This slowness also inevitably reduced the effect of the ensuing funeral march (salvaged from an early symphony inspired by the Schumann tragedy).

However, Mr. Barenboim has always been a very pliable Brahmsian, and was ready to push on more than most people at every subsequent rise of emotional temperature. But he did not quite pull the second movement into shape, despite some supremely impressive climaxes.

The last movement, though very expressive, also dragged in places. The middle movements were much more effectively timed and moulded, especially the third and sixth with their drama and their strong concluding fugal affirmations of faith. The sixth brought a great sense of triumph over the grave. Once they got into their stride, the singers rose to every big occasion. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau savoured his words intensely, always finding the tone colour and style – dramatic or lyrical – for the mood in question. Sheila Armstrong sang her single movement with diamond-like definition. though arguably this music responds better to tone a little more pearl-like, more dulcet, more angelic.

Joan Chissell


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