The original recording of Britten’s War Requiem was made fifty years ago with members of the LSO and London Symphony Chorus conducted by the composer. In 2011 the LSO decided to mark the piece’s half-centenary with a new recording for its own label.
Britten’s War Requiem had been composed to mark the reconsecration in 1962 of Coventry Cathedral. It is of course a requiem with a difference – the standard Latin text interwoven with the unflinching war poems of Wilfred Owen. It is not a passive act of remembrance but instead takes the genre into new dramatic territory, fusing elements of oratorio and opera.
The conductor Gianandrea Noseda makes his debut for LSO Live on this recording. Supremely well-organised and knowing exactly what he wanted, he brought an Italianate perspective to the work and delivered his own compelling vision of it. This is a reading high on drama.
Britten’s scoring contrasts intense chamber passages with huge tuttis, and Noseda wanted to capture the work’s contrasting sound worlds as successfully as possible. Since the score demands both a large orchestra and chamber forces, the larger group was placed around the smaller one, with the two male soloists seated by the conductor and the soprano at the apex of the stage with the chorus. The boys’ choir was dispatched to sing from the Barbican Hall balcony. This was as close as we could get to replicating a cathedral-like experience.
The performance has an amazing drive. The LSO players are on majestic form, with the brass resplendent and the LSO’s principal trumpeter Philip Cobb at his expressive best. The London Symphony Chorus and Choir of Eltham College sing with utter conviction and there are three particularly fine soloists in Sabina Cvilak, Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside. Combining the talents of a new generation of performers, the disc gives a new lustre to the War Requiem fifty years after it first appeared on vinyl.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
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