Britten - War Requiem
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Cat No: 6154482
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 14th October 2013
Orchestra, Coro e Voci Bianche dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
2013 marks the 100th birthday of Benjamin Britten and EMI pays tribute to this key figure of 20th century music with the release of a brand new recording of his War Requiem, with a stellar line up of soloists – Anna Netrebko, Ian Bostridge and Thomas Hampson.
Considered to be Britten’s crowning choral work, and for some possibly the pinnacle of his entire output, the War Requiem was commissioned for the festival marking the consecration of the new cathedral at Coventry.
1What Passing Bells
4Out There, We Walked Quite Friendly Up To Death
6Be Slowly Lifted Up
7Domine Jesu Christe
8Sanctus, Hosanna, Benedictus
10Let Us Sleep Now
Now, to coincide with the date of the centenary itself, come arguably two of the most important releases of all. The Testament label once more have us in their debt with the first official release of the War Requiem’s premiere, on 30 May 1962 in the newly-consecrated Coventry Cathedral, transferred from the original BBC tapes. Paul Kildea’s liner notes detail some of the performance’s rough edges and flaws, and Britten was unhappy with both the Coventry Festival Choir and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which are nevertheless held together valiantly by conductor Meredith Davies. Providing the backdrop for the male soloists, Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the Melos Ensemble under Britten himself fare much better, while Heather Harper (standing in for Galina Vishnevskaya after the latter was denied a visa by the Soviet authorities) gives a radiant account of the soprano solos. The boys’ choirs of Holy Trinity, Leamington and Holy Trinity, Stratford together with John Cooper at the organ add some highly atmospheric moments.
Warts-and-all it may be, but the transcendent quality of the solo singing – including the desperately moving final pages – and the tangible sense of occasion make this performance something very special indeed, and considerably more than the sum of its parts. Given the provenance of the recording (in an acoustic that Britten described as ‘lunatic’), the mono broadcast sound is acceptable, if rather muffled in the Libera me, and this disc will now surely become an essential adjunct to Britten’s studio recording from the following year, as well as an historic document in its own right.
From the very first recording of the War Requiem to the most recent: Antonio Pappano’s reading on Warner Classics, taken from concert performances in Rome this June. The forces are the Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, who are on blistering form, thrilling in the louder passages with immaculate ensemble, sensitive and finely-etched in the more reflective music. Non-British forces often throw new light on this music, and it’s not entirely fanciful to sense that the work’s indebtedness to Verdi’s Requiem is brought out here. The children’s voices of the Voci Bianche di Santa Cecilia are imaginatively distanced, enhancing the music’s liturgical echoes, while the main chorus is wonderfully ominous in the sotto voce opening of the Dies irae, with biting brass and percussion.
The soloists, drawn from three nations, are exceptionally distinguished. Anna Netrebko soars commandingly in the Liber scriptus and movingly in the Lacrimosa. Thomas Hampson may be a shade less characterful than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, but he’s no less sensitive or touching, while Ian Bostridge once again proves to be the most compelling Britten tenor since Pears himself. With flawless sound and a wide dynamic range, this is one of the finest and most movingly shaped accounts of the War Requiem in many years, benefiting hugely from Pappano’s innate sense for dramatic pacing. Full sung texts are provided, whereas Testament’s are available only online in PDF format.
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