Britten: War Requiem

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: War Requiem
PERFORMER: Christine Brewer (soprano), Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor), Gerald Finley (baritone); Tiffin Boys’ Choir; London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Kurt Masur, Neville Creed
As so often in the concert hall, this performance takes a while to reach full stature. Only Gerald Finley is magnificent from the first, as compelling musically and emotionally in ‘Bugles Sang’ as in the culminating ‘Strange Meeting’ sequence. Christine Brewer, at first sternly impressive, finally melts in the Benedictus, and her soaring climactic phrase in the ‘In paradisum’ almost makes up for the boys’ rough intonation a moment or two earlier. Anthony Dean Griffey’s vocal acting, initially rather forced, warms up at last in ‘Move him into the sun’ – though I never quite got used to his sugar-plum vowel sounds. Directing it all, Kurt Masur is intellectually in control right from the start, but it is only really in the Agnus Dei and Libera me that I felt that he had won the battle for hearts as well as minds.


Choosing a single all-round recommendation is hard. The composer’s own recording is, of course, uniquely authoritative, though soprano Galina Vishnevskaya’s wild vibrato and paint-blistering fortissimo aren’t easy to take in large doses. Her ‘understudy’, Heather Harper, would have been better, but by the time she came to record it with Richard Hickox for Chandos in 1992, she was no longer at her splendid best. Britten it has to be then, despite the above reservation: not only is it his vision, he is able as conductor to tailor it perfectly for the recording studio. This, by contrast, feels like eavesdropping on an experience that only partly came off. Stephen Johnson