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Disc review: London Symphony Orchestra plays Brahms

“Incredibly dear, incredibly enriching and for your heart and for your soul and your intellectual curiosity,” Valery Gergiev said, discussing this recording on YouTube in his brooding accent. “I think Brahms looked for the content and depth in expression, and it’s a very wonderful composition.”

After that he wisely turns it over to that opening chorus, which says all you need to hear.

Brahms’ German Requiem – originally, he titled it a “human requiem” – is one of those vast pieces you have to get to know. Heard once or twice, it’s heavy. After a few listens, though, it begins to grow luminous.

Germans always have loved choral singing, and nobody loved it more than Brahms. Deep as it is, this piece can remind you of his sunnier songs for chorus. Gergiev’s epic, dark Russian approach presents the music’s glorious harmonies and rich jewel tones. He gives the piece space and the choruses pack amazing punch.

The trumpets are sharp and bright and the pace of it has the kind of drama that makes you feel as if you are hearing an opera, no surprise considering Gergiev’s background. The soloists are baritone Christopher Maltman and soprano Sally Matthews.

Brahms, German Requiem, The London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Valery Gergiev, conductor (LSO Live).
3.5 stars

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