Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

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josé echenique
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Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by josé echenique » Fri May 25, 2012 11:20 am

One of the indisputable masterpieces of our time, Britten´s War Requiem, will be 50 next May 30.
The War Requiem was commissioned for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, and it was premiered there May 30, 1962 with Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Heather Harper substituting at the last moment for Galina Vishnevskaya who was denied an exit visa by the USSR.
I don´t think there´s a poor recording of the War Requiem, the texts by Wilfred Owens and Britten´s glorious music forbid a half hearted rendition.

I have:

1.Pears, Fischer-Dieskau, Vishnevskaya, LSO, Britten. Decca.
2.Harper, Langridge, Shirley-Quirk, LSO, Hickox. Chandos.
3.Orgonasova, Rolfe Johnson, Skovhus, NDR, Gardiner. DG.
4.Dovracheva, Dean Griffey, Stone, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden. Challenge.
5.Woytowics, Pears, Wilbrinck, New Philharmonia, Giulini. BBC.
6.Brewer, Dean Griffey, Finley, LPO, Kurt Masur. LPO.
7.Vaness, Hadley, Hampson, NYPO, Kurt Masur. TELDEC.
8.Wiens, Robson, Hagegard, Israel Philharmonic, Kurt Masur. Helicon.
(Kurt Masur must surely love the work).
9.Lövaas, Roden, Adam, Rundfunk-Symphonieorchester Leipzig, Kegel. Berlin Classics.
10.Haywood, Rolfe Johnson, Luxon, Atlanta Symphony, Robert Shaw. Telarc.
11.Goerke, Clement, Stilwell, Washington, Shafer. Gothic.

John F
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by John F » Fri May 25, 2012 1:24 pm

The only commercial recording I have is the first one. But after Rostropovich conducted a blow-'em-away performance with the New York Philharmonic, I recorded his broadcast with the National Symphony. The "Libera me," with Galina Vishnevskaya in one of her last performances before retiring, was truly terrifying; whether or not Britten meant the climax of that movement to depict a nuclear holocaust, it was certainly the effect of Rostropovich's performance, whose blast made it feel as if I were being pushed back against the auditorium wall. Never to be forgotten, and fortunately there's the NSO broadcast as a reminder if needed.

When Kurt Masur started the series of free Memorial Day performances at St. John the Divine, his first one was the War Requiem, which was also the most appropriate one for the occasion. Before long the concert became a repeat of whatever subscription concert preceded it, with no particular suitabiity to Memorial Day. Masur's way with the piece is certainly effective, but I don't feel the need to own it.

A fairly recent disappointment was when Colin Davis was scheduled to conduct the War Requiem during the London Symphony's annual residence at Lincoln Center. That might have been his first time with the work, that and the performances in London. But it didn't happen. Advised by his doctors to cut back, he handed off the War Requiem to Gianandrea Noseda. That may have been a good performance, I don't know as I didn't go to hear it.
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PJME
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by PJME » Fri May 25, 2012 1:37 pm

Image

It is out now on cd!

Another recent one is Jaap Van zweden + Dutch radio forces.

Image

Later this year Martyn Brabbins' version with the Antwerp Philharmonic will be available on DVD ( I think)


P.

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Jared » Fri May 25, 2012 2:40 pm

then of course, you have Derek Jarman's moving film, for a different angle:

http://www.amazon.com/War-Requiem/dp/B0 ... 740&sr=8-3

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Donaldopato » Sat May 26, 2012 7:12 am

Pears, Fischer-Dieskau, Vishnevskaya, LSO/Britten Decca

Dean Griffey, Finley, Brewer, LPO/Masur LPO

Both fine performances. Heard the same soloists as in the Masur/LPO in St Louis with the StLSO and David Robertson, so it is a sentimental favorite as well.
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Tore » Sat May 26, 2012 9:40 am

Other recordings not mentioned by others are:


Martyn Brabbins (1996) on Naxos

Helmuth Rilling on Hänssler

Ernest Ansermet (1967) on Cascavelle

William Hall (1989) on Klavier.

Tore F Steenslid
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josé echenique
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by josé echenique » Sat May 26, 2012 11:05 am

And of course Simon Rattle´s, but we don´t want to upset Chalkie because we know he´s watching.

Get well Chalkie!

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Lance » Mon Jun 04, 2012 3:32 pm

You will never believe this, but I don't have a CD copy of Britten's War Requiem. I have rarely warmed to Britten's music with some notable exceptions. I do enjoy his conducting and some of the piano accompaniments he has provided for people such as Peter Pears (whose voice I otherwise do not admire either).
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josé echenique
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by josé echenique » Mon Jun 04, 2012 5:48 pm

Pears´s voice was not the most beautiful of course, what I admire is his exquisite pronunciation of the English language, in that respect he was matchless. Even second rate Britten like Death in Venice can be absorbing when sung by Peter Pears.
But the War Requiem is very first rate Britten.

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by John F » Mon Jun 04, 2012 5:56 pm

Which of Britten's works do you warm to, Lance? Just curious.
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Lance » Tue Jun 05, 2012 12:36 am

[1] Ceremony of Carols
[2] Many of Britten's song arrangements ("Down by the Sally Gardens"" and "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" for example)
[3] Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell [Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra]
[4] Song cycle: A Charm of Lullabies
John F wrote:Which of Britten's works do you warm to, Lance? Just curious.
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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John F
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by John F » Tue Jun 05, 2012 2:30 am

So the only works by Britten that you like are his pieces based on other music and/or written for children? I had thought you might at least include the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, the most conventionally melodic of his major works and a perfect thing of its kind. Oh well, there's no arguing about tastes.
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jun 05, 2012 7:18 am

My WR of choice is a non-commercial recording:
1962 world premiere performance bcst from Coventry Cathedral with soloists Heather Harper, Pears, Fischer-Dieskau, and conductors Britten / Melos Ensemble and Meredith Davies / COBSO.

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maestrob
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by maestrob » Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:25 am

Lance wrote:[1] Ceremony of Carols
[2] Many of Britten's song arrangements ("Down by the Sally Gardens"" and "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" for example)
[3] Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell [Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra]
[4] Song cycle: A Charm of Lullabies
John F wrote:Which of Britten's works do you warm to, Lance? Just curious.
......and you don't like the 4 Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes? .....or perhaps The Prince of the Pagodas or the Simple Symphony (for string orchestra)?

I must confess I haven't heard the War Requiem in years, must pull it out and give it another try.....

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Chalkperson » Tue Jun 05, 2012 12:08 pm

josé echenique wrote:And of course Simon Rattle´s, but we don´t want to upset Chalkie because we know he´s watching.

Get well Chalkie!
Thanks for the good wishes, Pepe, recovery is very slow, Doctors predicting another year of rest required...but, i'm sad to say that I never enjoyed this work, I remember the premiere on TV and often enjoyed walking thru the ruins at Coventry, the work and the new Cathedral went hand in hand, great ideas but neither are outstanding masterpieces...
Sent via Twitter by @chalkperson

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 05, 2012 12:23 pm

Chalkperson wrote:the work and the new Cathedral went hand in hand, great ideas but neither are outstanding masterpieces...
That puts my thoughts into words better than I could have myself (now that you've said it I might want to add "better in parts than as a whole" to give due credit).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Lance » Tue Jun 05, 2012 12:49 pm

Well, it appears that way, however I just pulled the immediate ones that came to mind. I do like the Serenade you mention, the Four Sea Interludes, and perhaps the Simple Symphony. From as far back as I can remember, though, Britten's original compositions had little affect on me. I thought I might like his various concertos, but it didn't happen. Again, it seems to be a matter of personal taste for which there is no other explanation I can think of except I am steeped in music composed over a period of 300 years up to about 1950. And let's face it, that embraces a huge amount of music. I'm not much for modern art either. Maybe it's a mental stigma or block. :(
John F wrote:So the only works by Britten that you like are his pieces based on other music and/or written for children? I had thought you might at least include the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, the most conventionally melodic of his major works and a perfect thing of its kind. Oh well, there's no arguing about tastes.
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by John F » Tue Jun 05, 2012 1:30 pm

To tell the truth, Britten's concertos don't do much for me either. And while he composed scads of orchestral and chamber music, by and large its his vocal music - several of the operas and song cycles, the miscellaneous pieces, and yes, the War Requiem - that I appreciate most.
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 05, 2012 2:19 pm

John F wrote:To tell the truth, Britten's concertos don't do much for me either. And while he composed scads of orchestral and chamber music, by and large its his vocal music - several of the operas and song cycles, the miscellaneous pieces, and yes, the War Requiem - that I appreciate most.
I can approach that assessment. Then I wonder if it is not a reflection of Britten being perhaps the first composer since Handel to attempt to set English for all it's worth, the language having been all but skipped over for nearly 200 years of the common practice period and its most fruitful artistic aftermath. And then we must come to terms with the limits of both the possible and the achieved when this finally changed.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by Lance » Tue Jun 05, 2012 2:41 pm

Well, based on what you and others say about the War Requiem, perhaps I have been hasty in my judgement. I have heard the work on a couple of occasions but it didn't spur me on to seek a recording of it. If I did get one, however, it would (probably) be the Britten-conducted one. I will give it another sincere try. No doubt the texts may be more meaningful but when melded to the music let's see what happens. I'm all for giving it another opportunity. After all, I am very much aware of Britten's status in the world of twentieth century music and that there must be a very good reason for it.
John F wrote:To tell the truth, Britten's concertos don't do much for me either. And while he composed scads of orchestral and chamber music, by and large its his vocal music - several of the operas and song cycles, the miscellaneous pieces, and yes, the War Requiem - that I appreciate most.
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by John F » Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:06 pm

The Latin parts of the War Requiem owe quite a lot to Verdi's requiem, and I admit it's those parts that I respond to most readily. A high point is the "Dies irae," with the chorus hushed and terrified and the brass signifying both the last trump and battlefield bugle calls near and far, echoed in the chamber orchestra for the baritone song "Bugles sang." And the "Libera me," "Deliver me from eternal death," with its grim march as if by some rough beast behind the cowering chorus, rising through a return of the last trump/battlefield trumpets, to an eruption of panic and a tremendous blast from the orchestra that some have likened to a nuclear detonation as well as the apocalyptic end of the world.



The Wilfred Owen poems, in effect an embedded song cycle, I find harder to like, and sometimes wish they weren't there, while at other times I get into them more.

Incidentally, last Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of its premiere.
Last edited by John F on Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:20 pm

John F wrote:The Latin parts of the War Requiem owe quite a lot to Verdi's requiem,
You don't say! :wink: :) Unfortunately, I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between inspiration and unoriginality in those movements.
The Wilfred Owen poems, in effect an embedded song cycle, I find harder to like, and sometimes wish they weren't there, while at other times I get into them more.
That's along the lines of what I was talking about in my previous post. But do you know of a really convincing English song cycle? It doesn't have to be (how could it be?) as good as the German-language biggies.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Taking stock: Britten´s War Requiem

Post by slofstra » Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:20 pm

Strange coincidence, or maybe not, given the 50th anniversary. The last episode of CD Review covered this work, here
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01hz7fz

The reviewer loved the recent Noseda/ LSO recording, and felt that it was better than the also recent van Zweden recording. The classic performance was felt to be this one:
BRITTEN: War Requiem
Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Peter Pears (tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), The Bach Choir, London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Highgate School Choir, Simon Preston (organ), Melos Ensemble, London Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Britten (conductor)
DECCA 4757511 (2CD, mid-price)
Also featured on
The Decca Sound: 50-CD set of recordings featuring recordings from the past 55 years DECCA 4782826 (50CD + 200 page booklet)
I don't catch every episode of CD Review; it is 3 hours long, but I did get this one. I have to say that I was much more excited by Messaien's Turangalila Symphony, also covered on this episode. And it's also in that Decca box, so guess what's moved up my wish list.

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