I have always wondered what it would have been like to be in the audience at the Hanover Square Rooms in 1791 and hear Haydn and Salomon present the first performances of his first set of "London" symphonies, or to hear the premiere of the Brahms German Requiem, or to have been there in the Theâtre des Champs-Elysées on the night when the Rite of Spring was greeted with controversy.
Well, I can't. But at least I could have tuned in for the world premiere of the War Requiem, and thanks to this release, I can hear it whenever I want. To be sure, this is hardly the one-definitive-performance-to-rule-them-all. (I'm willing to bet none of the above I mentioned weren't all that definitive, either.) But it's the work's maiden voyage, and as such is a historical treasure, AM-radio sonics and sloppy playing notwithstanding. That's especially poignant given that we have the stellar studio recording on Decca, made not long after. We *know* how Britten wanted the Requiem performed: no mysteries about performance practice, size of performing forces, tempi, all that.
In short, recordings like this dwell apart from their studio or later brethren. They're historical documents as much as performances, and as such, they are a gift to the future.