Notes and Editorial Reviews
This was a special War Requiem performance, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, and remembering the 300,000 Americans who died in that conflict. Released 10 years on, this live radio recording of a pacifist’s war cry against the waste of young life carries some emotional current, and the sound is pretty good. Strengths are Schafer’s confident direction and the playing, especially in the brass and from the chamber group. Richard Clement is the pick of the soloists on the day, though Goerke is pleasingly even, and on the note, even if the tempo of the “Lachrymosa” is way too quick for a Molto lento. Everyone rises to the moving final climax, including baritone Richard Stilwell, who’d played Billy Budd to Peter Pears’s Captain Vere in the 1978 Met production of Britten’s grand opera. There are a few small coughs, and no applause to follow a rather abrupt cutoff. Stravinsky was envious of the War Requiem’s success, and some of Schafer’s no-nonsense tempos do point up the debt to the Symphony of Psalms and various Stravinsky ballet scores, though the Latin sections can sound short-changed on longer acquaintance.
The composer’s Decca account is above the battle, and an important part of history that everyone should know (and probably does). If you want just one War Requiem for the shelf, get Hickox for the drama and power, better playing, and superb couplings. Yet there’s something special about this piece taken live. The present issue will have significance for many beyond the usual run of comparisons. “I hope it’ll make people think a bit,” said Britten to his sister, after the first performances of op. 66, in 1962. Plenty of war since then, and plenty of food for thought, still, in this work and the uses we’ve made of it.
Paul Ingram, FANFARE