Britten: War Requiem

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: DG
WORKS: War Requiem
PERFORMER: Luba Orgonasova (soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Boje Skovhus (baritone); Tölz Boys’ Choir, Monteverdi Choir, NDR Chorus, NDR-SO/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 437 801-2 DDD
A photograph of the broken bells of the Marienkirche, Lübeck, still lying where they fell in 1942, identifies the cover of this latest War Requiem, recorded live by combined British and German forces during last year’s Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, in the long, white spaces of the Lübeck church itself.

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The haunting unease of Britten’s and Wilfred Owen’s ‘passing bells’ resonates on through the superbly balanced choirs of boys and adults, symbolising, as Arnold Whittall (ch sp) points out in his valuable accompanying essay, all the tensions and precarious balances within the work. The consolatory sentiments and the resistance built towards them are most powerfully developed by John Eliot Gardiner’s direction of the lithe orchestral playing and the bright, unpious voices of the Tölz Boys Choir.

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With at least three formidable recording already available, this one meets stiff competition, particularly when it comes to the soloists. Anthony Rolfe Johnson is without peer, seeking out the hard realism inside Owen’s poetry: ‘Move him into the sun’ has possibly never been done better. But, for all their sensitivity, the singing of baritone Boje Skovhus and soprano Luba Orgonasova never really comes out and hits you in the face with the chilling directness of, say, John Shirley-Quirk and Heather Harper for Richard Hickox (Chandos) or the still incomparable Vishnevskaya and Fischer-Dieskau for Britten himself on that original great Decca recording. Hilary Finch