RECORDS / In search of the amazing fruity tutti: Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson review new recordings of Brahms and Mozart

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The Independent Culture
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor. Two Songs Stephen Kovacevich, Ann Murray, Nobuko Imai, London Philharmonic / Wolfgang Sawallisch (EMI CDC 7 54578-2)

ONE of the most majestic, exploratory and compelling performances of the Brahms D minor Concerto to appear in a very long time. Wolfgang Sawallisch's opening orchestral paragraph promises something dark and monumental, but Kovacevich's first solo entry soon opens up new possibilities: inwardness as well as striving; delicacy as well as heroic onslaught. The whole work is magnificently shaped - formally taut, often urgent and yet with freedom to dream.

The couplings are in the same rich vein. Since opening my copy of the disc two weeks ago I must have played Geistliches Wiegenlied somewhere near 20 times. Tender, quietly soaring singing from Murray, and perfect accord between her and the players - it is difficult to hold on to the anxieties of everyday living in the face of music-making like this. The recording judges balance and sonority excellently. SJ

TWO seasoned musicians with nothing to prove and everything to rediscover: familiar phrases roll out, effortlessly, undemonstratively. Others may storm the traumatised tuttis more vehemently, but few are so resolute. Each time the music seeks refuge in introspection, the level of awareness intensifies. Sawallisch and the London Philharmonic immediately set the precedent as Brahms's opening declamations melt into the rapt second theme: Kovacevich duly tenders the perfect mirror image. They are an enthralling partnership, in action and introspection. The slow movement - a requiem for Schumann in all but name - is exceptionally beautiful: even one listener feels too many.

EMI have a really creative surprise in store: Brahms's sublime Op 91 songs, uniquely tinted through the addition of viola to the contralto voice and piano. Gestillte Sehnsucht is all twilit longing, Geistliches Wiegenlied a lullaby to the Christ child shrouded with foreboding. Ann Murray sings both as though she has just heard Kovacevich play the slow movement of the concerto. ES

MOZART: Requiem (completed by Duncan Druce). Masonic Funeral Music. Ave verum corpus Argenta, Robbin, Ainsley, Miles, Schutz Choir and Consort, London Classical Players / Roger Norrington (EM1 CDC 7 54525-2)

ONCE it was so simple. Mozart had all but finished the Requiem at his death; his trusted pupil Sussmayr had, on Mozart's own recommendation, filled the gaps. Now the story has changed: Sussmayr wasn't Mozart's first choice, he missed important surviving sketches - and worst of all he botched the job. Roger Norrington's solution is recomposition, provided here by Duncan Druce. Some of it sounds very plausible, but the problem remains: who, in these days of Mozart deified, is going to accept pastiche in the context of his greatest choral work? Not I, despite cogent, impassioned argument from Norrington and his magnificent singers and players. I do like this urgent, high-energy performance. I feel more positive still about the de-sentimentalised Ave verum corpus and the flowing, finely-pointed Masonic Funeral Music. SJ

IF Mozart were to hand out commendations for completion of his Requiem then I have a feeling that Duncan Druce would come out ahead of Mozart's pupil Franz Sussmayr - for initiative, for imagination, for daring. At the close of the Lacrimosa he boldly takes up Mozart's sketch for an immense fugal 'Amen'. Its effect here is hugely uplifting - tears of lamentation turned to affirmation.

Then there is the Benedictus, entirely recomposed. If you have been weaned on Sussmayr, then Druce's ornate meditation may phase you. There is something to be said for Sussmayr's engaging simplicity, but in general I bow to Druce's composerly sense of adventure. Mozart would surely have welcomed his richer Osanna fugues, his fuller instrumental elaborations: the dark basset-horn and bassoon colorations come through strongly here, and Norrington's Schutz Choir is alert and punchy.

The Masonic Funeral Music sets the tone of the disc to perfection; Ave verum corpus provides the benediction. ES