The press attested in 2009 to “narcotic potential” and a “goose-pimple factor” when Christian Thielemann performed choral works by Johannes Brahms with the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Rundfunkchor Berlin. This is now followed by the composer’s most famous vocal work: the “Deutsches Requiem”. Despite its monumental structure, the work’s message is humane: the focus is not on otherworldly salvation, but rather on temporal solace for us who are bereaved.
A German Requiem
Johannes Brahms, the great symphonist of the 19th century, established his reputation not with an orchestral work but with a choral work: his Deutsches Requiem brought him triumphant success after the complete version premiered in 1869, making him one of the leading composers of his time virtually overnight. Brahms’s many years of experience as a choral conductor and his thorough study of the a cappella movements of old masters benefited him during the composition process. He congenially joins various vocal genres such as fugue, motet, chorale and lied to form a coherent whole. Brahms, the Protestant, addresses the Catholic rite of the requiem with the work. Nonetheless, he did not set the Latin words of the liturgy to music, but rather arranged German texts from the Old and New Testaments. The theme is not otherworldly salvation, but rather temporal solace for the bereaved. He finds a musical language full of dramatic power and touching intimacy for their grief, their pain.
The list of conductors who have conducted Brahms’s masterpiece with the Berliner Philharmoniker since Herbert von Karajan’s death is remarkable: Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Bernard Haitink, Simon Rattle and lastly Donald Runnicles. This time Christian Thielemann will conduct the Deutsches Requiem. He already established that he possesses the right touch for the composer’s choral-symphonic works at the philharmonic concerts in 2009, where he conducted performances of Nänie, Song of the Fates and the Song of Destiny and received unanimous praise: his interpretations had “narcotic potential” and a “goose-pimple factor”.