Recommended Recordings of the Brahms Schicksalslied Reviewed

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Recommended Recordings of the Brahms Schicksalslied Reviewed

There is no lack of great recordings of the Schicksalslied (song of destiny). These four performances are excellent, and they are especially recommended because of the additional works included in the album.

John Eliot Gardiner’s performance is truly wonderful. The Monteverdi Choir is one of the best in the world. Gardiner imbues the performance with all the romantic fervor he can muster. This is not the brusque, clarity-at-any-cost Gardiner. This recording includes Brahms’s First Symphony and the funeral hymn Begräbnisgesang.

Artists: John Eliot Gardiner (conductor), The Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

This recording was released in January 2012 by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Antoni Wit, who has guest-conducted the San Francisco Symphony. The performance excels in richness because of the larger chorus. Like Gardiner, Wit imbues Brahms’s sometimes craggy harmony with warmth, making the piece almost a profound prayer, which in a sense it is. The most notable thing about this recording is you also get five other Brahms pieces for chorus and orchestra, including the Alto Rhapsody for male chorus and contralto, the sumptuous Ave Maria, Begräbnisgesang, Nänie (song of lamentation), and Gesang der Parzen (song of the Fates). The sound is first-rate.

Artists: Antoni Wit (conductor), Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Ewa Wolak (contralto).

The late Robert Shaw, one of founding fathers of modern choral singing in America, set out as conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus to record all of the major works for chorus and orchestra for Telarc. This was a giant accomplishment, and all of that effort still exists in the catalogue today. Most performances were very successful. This recording is no exception. You get not only a ravishing performance of Schicksalslied, you also get the great Marilyn Horne singing the Alto Rhapsody. Also included are Nänie and Gesang der Parzen (song of the Fates). I have some quibble with the sound. The chorus seems slightly set back from the orchestra.

Artists: Robert Shaw (conductor), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Marilyn Horne (mezzo-soprano)

In this Chandos Recording by the Danish National Choir and Symphony Orchestra, conductor Gerd Albrecht takes a more brisk approach to Brahms’s choral music, except for the Ave Maria. The Schicksalslied is full of romantic sweep, and Albrecht builds the piece beautifully. However, the big draw for this recording is that it contains one of the few performances of Brahms’s Triumphlied. This is really pompous Brahms, celebrating the victory in the Franco Prussian War. Brahms was a great patriot. Whether this is good Brahms I will leave for another time, but it is a hoot to listen to, with no apologies to Handel. You also get the Ave Maria and Nänie.

Artists: Gerd Albrecht (conductor), Danish National Choir and Symphony Orchestra, Bo Skovhus (baritone)

- Recordings reviewed by John Chase, a bass with SF Choral. Mr. Chase has broad experience as a freelance music critic, through Creative Arts International, for which he has reviewed performances up and down the West Coast for the past ten years. He also contributes, both as editor and writer, to various music publications and schools. Recently, he was contributing writer and editor to a large work in the Czech Republic entitled “Dvořák: Master of the Melody,” in celebration of Antonín Dvořák’s 170th birthday in 2011. Mr. Chase has a minor in Music History/ Musicology from the University of Michigan, with additional graduate coursework at Duke University.

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