Britten: War Requiem

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: War Requiem
PERFORMER: Lynda Russel (soprano), Thomas Randall (Tenor), Michael Volle (baritone); Scottish Festival Chorus, Choristers of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins, Nigel Boddice
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553558/9
Britten’s War Requiem is a work of such magnitude, and conveys a message of such power, that every performance needs to be an ‘occasion’. It cannot be treated lightly or without the full commitment of all involved. Although this new Naxos recording derives from a festival performance, given in the former Harland & Wolff engine shed in Glasgow as part of last year’s Mayfest, it would seem to have generated little sense of collective emotion. The playing of the BBC Scottish SO is merely workaday and Brabbins’s direction of the orchestra, and especially Nigel Boddice’s of the chamber ensemble, often uninspiring and prosaic. The rather pale sound doesn’t help: the venue, according to the booklet note, was chosen to ‘recreate the sound’ of a large cathedral, but there is little sense of depth and none of the sensitive spatial placing of the different forces that so distinguishes the recordings by both the composer (Decca) and Richard Hickox (Chandos). Volle is the most successful of the soloists: Russell is somewhat colourless and Randle too light-voiced with an incessant, irritating vibrato.

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This may seem to be a bargain, but the full-price rivals mentioned above are definitely worth the extra expenditure. Matthew Rye