Britten War Requiem

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Benjamin Britten
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Britten War Requiem
WORKS: War Requiem
PERFORMER: Evelina Dobracheva (soprano), Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor), Mark Stone (baritone); Netherlands Children’s Choir; netherlands Radio Choir & Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden, Reinbert de Leeuw


On the heels of the LSO’s recent War Requiem featuring Gianandrea Noseda’s fresh, dramatic and very non-British direction, along comes this impressive recording from Holland with only one British soloist (Mark Stone). It’s an encouraging indication of the work’s international progress, which, after a flurry of activity around its initial performances, has been slow.

Performed in a large modern concert hall in Antwerp, this, like the Barbican disc, lacks the atmosphere and sense of resonant space offered by a cathedral acoustic. Still, it’s beautifully captured in SACD, and the sheer tonal quality, balance and clarity across choir and orchestras make this an important achievement.

Jaap van Zweden also benefits from the magnificent Evelina Dobracheva (above, right). With a formidable blend of Slavic steel and sensuality in her rich soprano, she provides the gleaming core to a deeply satisfying Libera me. Zweden takes this and the Dies Irae steadily, measuring climaxes deliberately, giving the performance a monumental feel, but missing the gripping, raw desperation Noseda finds. Where Zweden’s approach pays off is in the more meditative choruses, such as the ethereal Recordare, and after the work’s final climax when he allows the voices to dissolve eerily through space, a dissolution of despair.

The partnership of Mark Stone with the rather shrill American Anthony Dean Griffey is not always successful: Griffey’s heavy vibrato makes for unevenness and vague diction, and he lacks a certain piercing ardour. Stone is, by contrast, strikingly direct, particularly in his most eloquent soliloquy as the dead German soldier. While neither bring the dramatic commitment of Simon Keenlyside and Ian Bostridge, they do not detract from what is overall a distinguished reading.


Helen Wallace