Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) Hans Hotter (baritone)
Choral Society of the Friends of Music, Vienna Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Herbert von Karajan, conductor
This radiant and justly famous 1947 recording of Brahms’ A German Requiem, a tribute to the composer’s mother who had died four years earlier, was the first complete studio version. It was made in Vienna two years after the end of World War II when the city was divided into four zones of occupation between the Allied powers, food was scarce and electrical power could be erratic.
The result was a remarkable and poignant achievement by soloists, chorus and orchestra alike, working in extremely difficult circumstances – many not having eaten for days – and acutely aware of the meaning and relevance of the Lutheran sacred texts primarily intended to reconcile the living to their loss.
“The intonation of some members of the Singverein occasionally wavers — there was no heating in the hall and some probably had not seen a decent meal for a week — but Karajan and Legge were endlessly patient and Schwarzkopf herself stood in the midst of the sopranos in many of the takes to give them added confidence and surety. The result is an articulation of the text so tender, so sad, so telling that one is no longer listening to a performance of a piece of music but to a sublime meditation on sacred texts by men and women all too acutely aware in the aftermath of war of the truth of the words and the sublimity of Brahms's setting of them.” Gramophone on the original issue