Jaime Martín turns to the shorter choral works for the second instalment of his Brahms survey, launched last year with a recording of the Serenades that was much admired in these pages (5/17). At its best, the new disc is comparably impressive, with performances of great lucidity and reﬁnement from the Gävle Symphony Orchestra and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir. There’s not a trace of stolidity anywhere: clarity is paramount, which in turn dictates the disc’s considerable strengths as well as its occasional weaknesses. Martín expertly teases out the orchestral textures, allowing us to appreciate the subtlety of Brahms’s string- and woodwind-writing in Nänie and Schicksalslied, and his striking deployment of the brass in Begräbnisgesang. The choral singing, meanwhile, is exceptional in its control and balance, the counterpoint wonderfully clear and vivid, even in the most complex polyphony.
Martín is often at his best when Brahms is at his most severe. Gesang der Parzen really hits home with its measured, oppressive tread and ﬁnely controlled dynamic shading. Begräbnisgesang, taken faster than usual, is similarly relentless, rivalling John Eliot Gardiner’s version (SDG, 10/08) in its ﬁerce austerity. Elsewhere, however, clarity sometimes comes at the price of intensity. Schicksalslied opens wonderfully well, with a real sense of loftiness as well as beauty in its evocation of the ‘selige Genien’ indifferent to human affairs. But the subsequent allegro, for all its precision, isn’t quite as turbulent – and therefore not as disquieting – as it could be. Nänie, very much shaded towards elegy, is the only work on the disc that arguably needs larger choral forces, particularly at the climaxes: I prefer the greater sonic and emotional weight of Abbado (DG, 4/92) and Sinopoli (DG, 5/93) here. Martín rounds the proceedings off, meanwhile, with Brahms’s 1870 orchestral version of nine of his Liebeslieder-Walzer, done with great elegance and bags of charm, and forming much-needed emotional relief after the dark meditations on fate, transience and mortality that precede them. Tim Ashley