ConcertMusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

War Requiem – Leeds Town Hall

Performed by: BBC Philharmonic, Leeds Festival Chorus, City of Glasgow Chorus, Cantabile Choir

Composed by: Benjamin Britten

Reviewed by: Rich Jevons

Some 40 years on from its original commission, Benjamin Britten’s haunting, and at times harrowing, War Requeim still packs a powerful punch. Britten combines Wilfred Owen’s war poetry with the Latin Missa pro defunctis to great effect.

As Simon Lindley notes, Britten devised his solo parts originally for an Englishman (Pears), a German (Fischer-Dieskau) and a Russian (the soprano Vishnevskaya), the latter replaced due to visa issues by Heather Harper.

Lindley recalls:

No one present at that performance in the glorious Spring of 1962 will ever forget it. The sun streaming through Piper’s windows, the kaleidoscope of musical sound, and – above all – the profound and strangely moving silence which followed the final bars – all these linger ling in the memory.

The BBC Phil’s conductor, Simon Wright, is both enthusiastic and passionate in his leading of the simply fabulous orchestral performance. The soloists also excel; Evelina Dobračeva manages a perfect balance to the chorus with great clarity and perfect pitch, and Andrew Staples and Benjamic Appl as tenor and baritone give intense renditions with great depth and reverence for the lyrical material.

Britten’s settings of Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth makes a very moving and ethereal introduction:

What passing bells for those who die as cattle.

And indeed it is the bells of the powerful yet plaintive percussion that frame the piece. The children’s choir (off stage) adds to the heavenly yet mournful atmosphere. The chorus is simply sublime and serene, capable of going from hushed whispers to bombastic redolence seamlessly.

No one could wish for more from an evening of such resplendent reverie to mark a century since the declaration of Armistice, an event that Wilfred Owen tragically would never see. A riveting performance that reminds us of both lives lost and the continuing tragedy of war, seen from a pacifist perspective by the mastery of Britten.

Reviewed on 17 November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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