Having objected to Gardiner's Brahms symphonies, which make a sham of Romantic style, I must disagree with the three-star reviewer who says that Gardiner makes the German Requiem sound as if it were a Baroque work. In this case, practice is better than theory. The notion that the masterpieces of late Romanticism should sound like Monteverdi is touted by the HIP camp in a superior manner, when in fact it is a ridiculous theory. The two chorus-and-organ works by Schuetz that begin the program (they share texts with two movements of the Brahms) are stunningly sung by the Monteverdi Choir, which has learned, against all odds, to hold impeccable pitch without using any vibrato. The music also finds Gardiner at his most convincing. He is an outstanding choral conductor by any measure.
The major work is a remake of Gardiner's first German Requiem on Philips, which was widely praised, and I enjoyed it as an antidote to high-Victorian piousness. It was thanks to that piousness that Brahms enjoyed his first international success with the Requiem. Gardiner's recording also benefited from two very good soloists in Rodney Gilfry and Charlotte Margiono, who were drawn from his stable of Mozart opera cast members. What has changed the second time around? As in the symphony cycle, Gardiner is determined to give us zingy strings in scarce quantity, which never stops being an irritation and a total anachronism (Pablo Casals played for Brahms and sued full modern vibrato). The orchestral body is so reduced as to make much of the Requiem sound a cappella.
As in his first version, Gardiner's virtues as a choral conductor give this reading backbone - I've never heard a choir sound so clear and precise. It also seems that he's willing to let them use vibrato, so this intimate, flexible reading of the Requiem doesn't imitate the Schuetz. Some passages are undersung, but Gardiner doesn't let the line sag, and in the fugues he shows real animation, which is rare. The recorded sound is excellent, clearly superior to the earlier one.
Which leaves the two soloists. The greater burden lies on the baritone Matthew Brook, who has a warm, appealing tone, but with a tendency to veer off pitch in passing notes and at the top of his range. His delivery is much more intimate than his rivals' - you really feel that this is a soul entreating God in privacy - so there's a nice counterpoint with the agitated chorus and orchestra. If you want an alternative to the usual declamatory style of most baritone soloists on disc, Brook can be quite moving. The soprano has only one solo, a very difficult one that lies so high, most soloists turn it into a vocalise without an intelligible word. Katherine Fuge seems quite small-voiced, but it doesn't matter given the small string body that she must sing over. she actually pronounces some of the text fairly clearly. But there's no great quality to her tone, style, or delivery.
I haven't quite communicated how personal and interesting Gardiner's conducting is. I'd easily rank the remake above his original. This is a beautiful reading even if you are allergic to "authenticity" - in this case, there's enough musicality to overcome all objections.