Britten: War Requiem; Rehearsal sequences

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WORKS: War Requiem; Rehearsal sequences
PERFORMER: Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Peter Pears (tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); Bach Choir, Highgate School Choir, LSO & Chorus, Melos Ensemble/Benjamin Britten
CATALOGUE NO: 414 383-2 ADD Reissue (1963)
Only Richard Hickox has come close to toppling Britten’s own recording of his War Requiem from its perch – his soloists (Heather Harper – who sang in the premiere – Philip Langridge and John Shirley-Quirk) are a match for Britten’s famous trio and his recorded sound and balance are of demonstration quality. But now back comes Decca with a second CD remastering of the classic original produced by John Culshaw in 1963, a year after the work’s premiere. Although supposedly ‘dehissed’, this revamp cannot completely hide the recording’s 36 years, but it captures the drama and passion of Britten’s direction vividly, no more so than in ‘Quam olim Abrahae’ and the ‘Libera me’. The coupling is a fascinating first release of a 40-minute ‘off-air’ rehearsal tape from the sessions. Culshaw later presented it to Britten as a 50th birthday present, much to the composer’s disgust. But neither this nor the recording’s undeniable classic status can really justify it still being sold at full price. Matthew Rye