Brahms won international fame with his German Requiem. The work contains stumbling blocks for performers, most of them attached to tempo choices and changes. Valery Gergiev’s ultimately frustrating interpretation, recorded at the Barbican over Easter 2013, drives a coach and horses through recent Brahms scholarship. That would be fine, if the results were not so eccentric.
Gergiev sets off at a snail’s pace in the first movement, leaving little room for contrast with its successor. The conductor overcompensates by rushing through ‘Siehe, ein Ackermann wartet’ before applying the brakes again. Instead of contemplating life’s impermanence in the second movement, I found myself clock-watching. Later he zips through ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’, exposing flaccid singing from the LSC’s tenors in passing, before selling ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit’ short on compassion.
The work’s contrapuntal set-pieces flash by, stripped of their nobility in the conductor’s relentless pursuit of drama. He does few favours for his soloists, pressing Christopher Maltman forward in ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’ and again in the sixth movement. Sally Matthews, not for the first time in her distinguished career, applies vibrato blanket fashion. In short this Brahms Requiem, while it contains convincing moments, never coheres into something whole.