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Benjamin Britten: War Requiem

Britten / Wiens / Robson / Hagegard / Masur
Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Helicon   Catalog #: 9645   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Edith WiensNigel RobsonHĺkan Hagegĺrd
Conductor:  Kurt Masur
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Israel Philharmonic OrchestraCzech Philharmonic ChoirAnkor Children's Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 23 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRITTEN War Requiem Kurt Masur, cond; Edith Wiens (s); Nigel Robson (ten); Hakan Hagegard (b); Israel PO; Czech P Ch; Ankor Children’s Ch HELICON 02-9645 (82:52 Text and Translation)

On the assumption that Kurt Masur’s two previous live recordings of this work don’t serve our needs, the Israeli orchestra has issued another one dating back to 1996 on its own new label. That makes it the earliest of the three. Since I reviewed his 2005 version with the London Philharmonic Read more ( Fanfare 30:2), readers have heard from colleague Paul Ingram (29:2), who reviewed a concert recording under Robert Shafer reissued 10 years after it had first been issued by the chorus and then taken up for distribution five years after that by Naxos; I had dismissed it (24:5) as very good but not competitive with several masterly recordings. Then colleague Phillip Scott (29:4) reviewed the original issue of the work conducted by the composer for the Classical Hall of Fame, unfortunately overlooking the fact that it had been reissued in 1999 in a much-improved transfer (the issue number unchanged) with the addition of 50 minutes of rehearsal, a compilation originally presented to the composer by John Culshaw as a gift (he was greatly offended by the invasion of his rehearsal privacy). Soon after that, it was reissued in still another transfer with a new number, still retaining the rehearsal bonus. Readers then heard from colleague Lynn René Bayley (34:3), who found a mono recording of a concert under Ernest Ansermet to be competitive with some of the finest examples of engineering to be given to this spectacular music. In 32:2, I listed all the recordings except Ansermet and the present Masur. There is also a DVD of Mstislav Rostropovich live at Peenemunde, but I have never seen a copy.

The present performance was given in the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, acoustically a very dry venue. The sound is clean but inevitably a little dense in the thickest passages, though the “Tuba mirum” comes off brilliantly. The coughing audience is intrusive at first before quieting down, and something goes crashing to the floor just as “Bugles Sang” is about to begin. The soloists are generally very good, sounding very much like some of their competition. The Israeli children’s choir is not as ethereal as several of the superb boys’ choirs that have recorded the work. Apart from a sense of distance imparted to the children’s choir, there are no spatial effects audible, and just a trace of sound comes from the rear speakers.

The composer’s recording remains the touchstone, still a remarkable feat of engineering, especially in its latest incarnation. Rilling would be high on the list anyway, but surround sound gives him a unique advantage. Gardiner was given sensational engineering for a performance that ranks with the best. I still like Masur’s New York performance best of his three, benefiting from the editor’s choice of takes among four performances. Shaw and Hickox deserve to be mentioned in this exalted company. I have written about the work itself repeatedly in earlier reviews and see no point in quoting my words here, even if the most detailed reviews are not yet in the Fanfare Archive. Suffice it to say that this is a 20th-century masterpiece and the composer’s greatest work.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber
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Works on This Recording

War Requiem, Op. 66 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Edith Wiens (Soprano), Nigel Robson (Tenor), Hĺkan Hagegĺrd (Baritone)
Conductor:  Kurt Masur
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Israel Philharmonic Orchestra,  Czech Philharmonic Choir,  Ankor Children's Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; England 
Date of Recording: 04/08/1996 
Venue:  Live  Mann Aduitorium, Tel-Aviv 
Length: 82 Minutes 52 Secs. 

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