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Notes and Editorial Reviews
I can’t emphasise more strongly how compelling this newcomer is, and how important that anyone who knows and loves the War Requiem should hear it.
Gianandrea Noseda, cond; London SO and Ch; Eltham College Ch; Sabina Cvilak (sop); Ian Bostridge (ten); Simon Keenlyside (bar)
LSO LIVE LSO 0719 (2 SACDs: 83:48
Text and Translation)
It is as if the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are responding again to the composer’s baton, even though there cannot be a single player or singer who was there that week more than 49 years ago. James Mallinson, who only went to work at Decca years after John Culshaw left, personifies him in his latest effort as the producer of LSO Live recordings. Galina Vishnevskaya, seemingly out of retirement, is singing her solos with the sharp edges of her voice smoothed off by the Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak. Ian Bostridge comes close at times to the distinctive voice of Peter Pears, and Simon Keenlyside is close to the effect that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau achieved. The surround sound is glorious, placing the boys’ choir in the rear speakers, just as Culshaw tried to do in the upper balcony of Kingsway Hall. The modern Barbican Hall is nothing like Kingsway, but Mallinson has captured the same kind of sound that originated there. Two public performances have produced a rendition without a single trace of audience noise, not even applause.
Gianandrea Noseda, the music director of the Turin opera since 2007, a conductor at the Met for a decade and at the Mariinsky Theatre even longer, has conducted symphony orchestras in many countries. Here he is completely self-effacing, making no attempt to impose anything distinctive on his interpretation. Fault it if you like, but I hear only a magnificent re-creation of this masterpiece as it has always sounded in my mind since hearing it for the first time. If there is one fault, it is the earthbound boys’ choir, which fails to float lightly above the powerful forces arrayed alongside. The word Britten used in his recorded rehearsal, “ethereal,” does not apply here.
There have been some superb realizations of this masterpiece. They include Helmut Rilling (
32:2), whose surround sound matches much of the effect of this recording; John Eliot Gardiner (17:6), a stunning achievement in ordinary digital stereo; and Kurt Masur in New York (22:1), the best of his three versions. All of these were captured live. The two best studio recordings after the composer’s own came from Robert Shaw (13:2) and Richard Hickox (15:3), still fine examples of the work of veteran choral conductors. Noseda goes close to the top of this short list, right after the composer’s latest remastering (32:2). Finishing this on the 50th anniversary of the premiere, the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral, an occasion noted on National Public Radio, I can only be grateful for such superb realizations of a truly inspired combination of texts and music.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber
It seemed curiously appropriate that I was listening to Britten’s own performance of the
War Requiem when I heard the sad news of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s death. He was the composer’s choice for the baritone part at the premiere of this great work in 1962. His performance in the subsequent Decca recording was simply unforgettable. Since then there have been a number of fine versions, but for all their strengths none has the immediacy and insight of the composer’s own. That said, Giulini’s live Albert Hall performance in April 1969 (BBC Legends) comes closest to it in spirit. Also, I was much impressed by Kurt Masur’s recording. His baritone Gerald Finley is especially affecting (LPO).
First impressions of this newcomer are entirely favourable. Those strange, twisting figures in the
Requiem aeternam are as haunting as ever. The notorious Barbican acoustic seems less of a problem too, although anyone familiar with John Culshaw’s more spacious Decca recording will miss the sense of a larger performing space. The upside is that the LSO Live account has great clarity and tonal sophistication. The Eltham choir is crisp and well balanced. By contrast Bostridge and Keenlyside are rather distant and their presentation of the alliterative
Anthem for Doomed Youth is less emphatic than that of Pears and Fischer-Dieskau. As for the soprano Sabina Cvilak, she sings most beautifully but is nowhere near as commanding as Vishnevskaya in the vaulting
The LSO certainly play well and the brass in the
Dies irae are especially thrilling. As for the tam-tam in
Be slowly lifted up it’s allowed to sound and resonate to great effect. No-one could be unshaken by the music that follows. Its ever-slowing tread and Cvilak’s perfectly scaled delivery are simply superb. All else pales next to Bostridge’s deeply moving, extraordinarily nuanced singing in
Futility. Time stands still here, and I can’t recall a finer account of Owen’s sad supplication than this, either on record or in the concert hall. It’s also a measure of Britten’s genius that this music never loses its power to astound. The simplest means are used to convey the most complex of human emotions.
The LSO chorus deserve a mention in dispatches. Their quiet singing in
Pie Jesu is ineffably beautiful. It’s at moments like these that the subtleties of this Super Audio recording are most evident. There are no problems at the other end of the dynamic spectrum either. The muscular drum thwacks and deep-throated brass in
Sed signifer sanctus are very well caught. Bostridge and Keenlyside’s
Parable of the Young Man and the Old is exquisitely done. The gorgeous harp and well-matched singers meld into another of those heart-stopping epiphanies that seem to be a Britten speciality. Gerald Finley and Anthony Dean Griffey blend well for Masur, whose live account also has a dramatic intensity and seamlessness that’s very impressive indeed.
Sanctus, with its strange instrumental
crescendi and angelus-like orchestral/vocal swings, is certainly powerful. That said, it doesn’t quite efface memories of Britten’s uniquely arresting version. Although Cvilak doesn’t have the heft of Brewer or Vishnevskaya she does compensate with a clean, wobble-free delivery. Once again Keenlyside sings most feelingly - yet without a hint of false sentiment - in
The End. As for Noseda one has to applaud him for maintaining such a tight ensemble and for responding so sympathetically to his soloists.
It just gets better. The instrumental/vocal rise and fall of the
Agnus Dei is as haunting as one could wish. The dry, metallic rumble of timps in the
Libera me is very effective too, adding its own garish hue to this hellish scene. Indeed, I’ve rarely heard such a myriad of colours and textures as revealed by this fine recording. If Culshaw and his team excelled at the broad brush, the LSO Live engineers are masters of telling detail. That said, the climactic moments of the
Libera me are unleashed with an unbridled energy that will take your breath away.
After that Bostridge and Keenlyside’s account of
Strange Meeting is indescribably moving. It’s another of those moments when nothing else could possibly matter but the focused horror of this imagined, subterranean encounter. Not surprisingly the hush in the hall - it’s a remarkably subdued audience for November - is complete, everyone under Britten’s spell. That’s where live recordings come into their own; few studio ones offer that sense of deep communion, of shared, collective emotion. ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend’, one of Owen’s most powerful lines, has a
frisson like nothing else in this score. The music of
Let us sleep now and the solemn
Requiescat speak of a healing embrace and of comfort.
I doubt anyone in the hall was not moved - and moved mightily - by this most profound performance. It seems almost sacrilegious, in this sombre context, to cheer the conductor, soloists, orchestra, choirs and engineers but they deserve it. This is a triumph for all concerned. What I would have given to be at the Barbican that night. Still, we have an unforgettable record of that event, even if - as is usually the case - it’s assembled from more than one performance. Does it supplant Britten’s own? No, and I doubt anything ever could. That said, I can’t emphasise more strongly how compelling this newcomer is, and how important that anyone who knows and loves the
War Requiem should hear it.
-- Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
War Requiem, Op. 66 by Benjamin Britten
Sabina Cvilak (Soprano),
Ian Bostridge (Tenor),
Simon Keenlyside (Baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra,
Eltham College Choir
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1961; England
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Nearly Flawless--MUST GET! December 18, 2012
By Weston Williams (Chicago, IL) See All My Reviews
"Britten's War Requiem has been reviewed and praised by far greater people than me, so I will simply take its greatness (and it is great) as a fact, and focus this review upon this particular rendition. This is not my first version of the War Requiem, so I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. The chorus is expressive, the soloists are perfect interpreters of their parts, and the orchestra delivers an unmatched performance of the work. In addition, modern recording techniques make this the highest-quality version that I have found in terms of sound quality. My one objection is that the playback levels are a little bit low on some small devices that have a volume cap, but this does not apply to all small devices, and larger speakers should be able to deliver a volume that is worthy of this great War Requiem."
Worth listening-lots of reasons June 12, 2012
By David P. (Grand Haven, MI) See All My Reviews
"I acquired War Requiem on vinyl once, long since purged when my listening source morphed to CD only (sorry Golden Ears-by now CD recording properly engineered is far superior) I remember that recording fondly, but not the artists or label. Then and now, the power and beauty of the music, unmistakably Britten, set within the historical importance of its commissioning, commands respect and, for me at least, awe. A noteable pacifist and conscientious objector in WW2, this work seems to be Britten's explanation to the world of why he sat that one out. It is a moving and emotional tribute to the millions of war dead and, for him, the futility of armed conflict. This new recording, superbly engineered and sung, is worth the price of admission and then some. The principal singers, chorus and orchestra are very fine indeed, as is the precision, imaging and spacing of the recording itself--always the kicker. A great musical interpretation poorly captured on CD isn't worth it. It should not clutter the small enough classical music marketplace. This one does not clutter."