Bombast and Beauty: Choral Music of Brahms
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Triumphlied by Brahms is one of those pieces, like Franck's Beatitudes, that was highly regarded by both the composer and his contemporaries and which today is almost thoroughly forgotten. While it might be easy to see why in both cases, Brahms's work has more to offer, I think, than the vapid and foursquare music that Franck's contemporaries swooned over. Brahms was a great patriot, and following the victory of his country in the Franco-Prussian war, he penned the Triumphlied with enthusiasm. It is Brahms's Dettingen Te Deum. Like Handel's work written to celebrate an English victory more than a century before, the Brahms is a big, brazen-throated work, the Triumphlied even more brazen with its double choir and almost constantly busy brass and percussion sections. But whereas Handel absented himself from felicity a while to remember the war dead in a moving slow section, Brahms has little time for such sentiments. His work is all praise for the God of Battle capped by a noisy vision of the end of time. In the last movement, in fact, he borrows from Revelations; some have even said that Brahms in this movement substitutes Bismarck for Jesus sitting astride the white horse of the Apocalypse that John foresees in Revelation 19!That kind of jingoism went out of style with 19th-century imperialism, itself a victim of World War I, which gave the Prussians a bad name they still haven't lived down. So into the waste can of musical history went the Triumphlied, to be reclaimed and dusted off during the stereo age in recordings by Sinopoli, Plasson, and now Gerd Albrecht. I haven't heard the others, I admit, but Albrecht's performance seems first-rate to me. It's monumental, big-hearted, bursting at the seams with a rather naive enthusiasm, as it must be. I enjoy this performance as much as the work itself, which has been a guilty pleasure of mine since I first became acquainted with it in a recording no longer available (I can't even remember who conducted it!). Bo Skovhus, the baritone in the last movement, sings with great tenderness and suavity in his brief solo.As for the other works on this disc, all of them are accepted choral masterpieces, the Ave Maria a gentle, flowing work of great charm, Schicksalslied one of deep drama along the lines of Brahms's own German Requiem, and Nanie one of restrained grief and anguish. I think that all of them are done full justice in these performances. The choir and orchestra mesh beautifully and produce a beautifully nuanced reading of each piece. And the sound is big and full, much more immediate than in some Chandos recordings. My only criticism is that at a little over 54 minutes, the disc is short measure by today's standards. I wish these performers had invited an alto to join them and thus included the Alto Rhapsody, though most Brahmsians will already have this piece somewhere in their collections. Still, I think Albrecht and company would have done Brahms a real service. But aside from this minor gripe, I have nothing but praise for the enterprise."