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on 10 December 2012
As a music lover and audiophile from a young age, I can recall clearly the tears running down my face and the poignancy of those feelings and emotions of empathy experienced in the 1960's, when, despite being very short of money I could not resist purchasing Britten's War Requiem on this brilliant Decca recording and heard the composer's magnificent and moving music, then newly written, and, soon after, so beautifully recorded on vinyl records for the first time.
With the passing of many years, this remastered transfer to CD (which is now obtainable at an extremely low price) moves me even more,especially as we still learn daily of more slaughter still happening in the world we live in. I am also moved not only in remembrance of the stunning accomplishment of the original musical performers, but also in respect for, and in considerable admiration of the remarkable sound quality achieved by those amazing Decca engineers of yesteryear. Having regard to the ease within which the large musical forces involved are so comfortably contained in this outstanding recording, it is not surprising in the least, that the particularly wide ranging and opulent sound on the original recordings, and now on these CDs, continues to impress so much. I have no reservations whatsoever in suggesting that these particular discs deserve to be regarded as both landmark performances and recordings, and, as such, merit inclusion in any serious collection of recorded music.
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on 27 March 2011
I first heard this recording 30 years ago, and for a long time had a LP recording. On recently downloading the Decca remaster, it has lost none of its appeal. It is in fact astonishing, listening to this recording, that it was recorded 39 years ago. The sound quality is amazing and the remaster just makes it bristle even more. There have been a number of more recent recordings, most notably with Simon Rattle in charge - but if you want to appreciate this piece you have to listen to it with the original "cast" for whom it was written - Vishnevskaya, Fischer-Dieskau and of course Peter Pears, with the composer in charge. It is almost a misnomer to title the piece "War Requiem" (and I hesitate to write this) - it is in fact a brilliant musical critique of the futility of war. And in so doing it provides a wholly new insight to the Latin text of the Requiem Mass, particularly in the Sanctus. The piece is inspirational and at the same time deeply disturbing - and that is surely how Britten meant it to be. I lived in Coventry for a while and often go back to the Cathedral. I cannot walk round without thinking of this music. I was astonished to read that this original recording sold 200,000 copies in a few weeks of original issue. Take the phone off the hook, find some top quality headphones and prepare to be amazed.
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2006
This was the piece of music that first really turned me on to classical music, listening to the very first performance from Coventry Cathedral on a small tranny radio. What I failed to realise then was that this massive impact was achieved by brilliant structural simplicity.

The whole work is effectively a study on the tritone, the 'diabolus in musica', that most disturbing and unstable of intervals. From the bells at the start to the harmonically ambiguous endings of the first and second movements and of the entire work; from the alternating tonics of the boys' Te Decet Hymnus to the alternating tintinnabulations of the soprano's Sanctus; from the fanfares of the Dies Irae to the two halves of the tenor's ineffable Dona Nobis Pacem at the end of the Agnus Dei. All these and countless other examples revolve around or grow out of the tritone. And what better musical image for war could there be than those two most irreconcilable notes in the scale?

Then, of course, there is the inspired concept of juxtaposing the hieratic incantations of the Latin Mass for the Dead with the burning anger of Wilfred Owen's First World War poems. There are, in fact, three tiers of performers in the War Requiem - the boys' choir and chamber organ, objective and dissociated in the distance; the soprano, chorus and orchestra singing the Latin Mass at, as it were, the centre of things; and the tenor and baritone with the chamber orchestra delivering Owen's bitter poems in the intimate and confidential foreground. The different perspectives of these three groups are a vital aspect of any performance and are ideally realised by producer, John Culshaw (of Golden Ring fame) and his team on this premiere recording.

After that first performance and subsequent ones in London, this recording was awaited with great anticipation. But even the most optimistic marketing man at Decca wasn't prepared for the overnight success of the enterprise. Classical music albums - especially of new music - weren't supposed to sell like that. From the iconic (and, at the time, unique) simplicity of the cover to the superlative standard of the recorded sound, never mind the quality of the performance itself, it outstripped the highest expectations.

And what of this performance? These were the performers for whom the piece was written - from the three soloists (specifically, a Russian, an Englishman and a German) to the inimitable Jimmy Blades in the chamber orchestra's percussion department. Famously, the Soviet Minster of Culture prevented Vishnevskaya from performing at the premiere and Heather Harper had to stand in and learn her part in just 10 days. By the time she recorded the part, her voice was not what it was in 1962. The purity of tone and the anguished commitment of her singing at moments like the Lacrymosa that one remembers from those first performances are very different from the more distanced interpretation with a touch of Slavic wobble that we get from Vishnevskaya. Different, but not necessarily better or worse. Pears and Fischer-Dieskau are, dare I say, peerless. Glorious singing from both: human, bitter, angry, touching, heartbreaking (Move Him into the Sun), heart-restoring as they duet the two dead enemies of Strange Meeting to sleep. The touch of a German accent in Fischer-Dieskau's otherwise immaculate English puts a new perspective on many of the poems that fall to his part (not just Strange Meeting) - but, after all, the Germans must have shared all the same feelings that Owen expressed so poignantly in his poetry.

As for Britten's control over all these forces (the first time, I think, that he hadn't shared the conducting, usually with Meredith Davies), it is as masterly as you would expect from the creator of it all - and one who was an illuminating conductor, too, both in his own and in others' music.

There have been many other recordings since this one. Some may have matched it in some departments some of the time. None can touch it for its inspired expression of a masterpiece, fresh from the making.
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VINE VOICEon 4 January 2009
The review by Klingsor Tristan is spot on and he is right to be so enthusiastic. The work itself has a claim to be one of the greatest works composed in the 20th Century and the searing commitment of all the performers in this first recording is almost palpable. The latest remastering eliminates almost all hiss and exposes clearly some of the remarkable quiet scoring of the work as well as delivering speaker-shaking cataclysmic Decca sound in sections like the "Dies Irae." The murmuring choral crescendo in the "Sanctus" is the best achieved on disc. Quite wonderful.
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on 19 January 2013
The first Britten piece I heard was for guitar and I thought it disjointed, though I acknowledge it would need a master to play it. Eventually, I borrowed Britten's version of the War Requiem from the library, sat down and listened to it all at one sitting. To use an inappropriate colloquialism, I was blown away. I had long loved the poems of Wilfred Owen from first reading them as a teenager. They said more to me about the first world war than all the historical accounts. I still think the Requiem is an astonishing accomplishment and cannot imagine what the reaction was when first performed.

This remastered version thankfully, gets rid of the tape hiss on the original CD but I still have a few gripes particularly with the soprano whose delivery is too operatic for my liking; too much vibrato; too forceful. The one element which stood out for me on first hearing the original was the quality of the "bell". I felt it was crucial and I'm certain that Britten, as always, was very precise about the sound he wanted. Other versions (I have the Rattle one) don't quite capture this ethereal quality; Britten's is less pure, more ragged almost so I was a little disappointed that this "bell" was less prominent than I recalled. (Poor memory perhaps)

Nonetheless, the performance retains the extraordinarily moving quality I do vividly recall. The rising final note on the last Amen surely indicates hope and always brings tears to my eyes. A wonderful rendition of one of the 20th century's genuine, original masterpieces.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 8 February 2016
If ever there was a definitive recording of a work then this must be a strong contender for the prize. Recorded in 1963 by the team that brought the Wagner / Solti Ring to the record collecting public and conducted by the composer himself, a noted conductor of his own music, just 8 months after the first performance in Coventry Cathedral of the work in May 1962, this famous achievement was an instant success and has been the reference version for collectors ever since.

Decca describes in the sleeve notes the efforts they have made to re-master this recording to the highest possible standard at this time. The results are impressive and will be appreciated by all who purchase this set. The three groups of performers ranging from the immediate soldiers as portrayed by the two male singers, string quartet and Wilfred Owen’s poetry, through the more emotionally distant choral liturgical contributions to the most distant, almost disembodied setting of the boys’ choir representing a further stage beyond are perfectly balanced within this recording. The vocal stridency of the female soloist, Galina Vishnevskaya, chosen by Britten perfectly suits the demanding urgency of the work and thus the composer brings a comprehensive range of emotions to bear upon the subject. This combination of conflicting emotional levels absolutely conveys Britten’s pacifist message of ‘the pity of war.’ This does not make for easy listening, nor should it do.

The recent fine video recording, Blu-ray and DVD, by Andris Nelsons and recorded in Coventry Cathedral marks the 50th anniversary of the première performance lead by Britten and here recorded in the favourable recording venue of the Kingsway Halls. This makes a powerful addition, but not replacement, of Britten’s own audio-only recording. The one feature that some may find disturbing to the message is Andris Nelsons’ unfailingly upbeat visual encouragement to the forces under his baton. This is the young conductor’s normal way of encouraging his performers to deliver to their best but really the message should be downbeat and not upbeat - a hard thing to achieve visually. The solution for the listener is to switch off the visuals and to simply listen to the performance.

The above paragraph is not as diversionary as it may, upon casual reading, seem. Rather it underlines how difficult it is, even so many years further on, to begin to match, let alone supersede Britten’s own achievement.

There is one further item to consider within the re-mastered Britten set and that is the inclusion of the taped rehearsal sequences showing how the composer tried to encourage and extract the musical results he was aiming for in the recording. This was presented to the composer as a surprise but resulted in his horror. It is only now, years after his death, that those unedited sequences are now made public in this box set. It may not be what made the composer happy but they nevertheless throw a light upon the composer’s musical and emotional intentions.

In summary, this re-mastered set retains its supremacy among all recorded versions of this work.
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on 21 March 2013
I first got to know this remarkable work many years ago through borrowing the original vinyl recording. I later bought the cassette tape version, and now I'm delighted to find it's been tidied up and reissued on CD. Included at the end are excerpts from a recording made of Britten rehearsing the work during the recording of the vinyl discs, giving valuable insights on how he wanted his work interpreted. Apparently, this rehearsal recording was made without Britten's knowledge, and given to him as a birthday present which was not well received! Thank goodness this interesting unwanted gift was saved by the record producer and is now reproduced for us to enjoy.
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on 5 February 2012
This is the definitive recording of the War Requiem as originally imagined by the composer. Not that this is the only way of doing it, as others have shown, but the performance here is absolutely stunning as is the recording by John Culshaw. It still sounds fabulous after 50 years. What genius Culshaw was!
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on 10 January 2010
The original recording of the War Requiem conducted by the composer and with the artists who gave the first performance. This is a difficult piece of music to record - it needs a live performance to deliver the full impact. However Britten was a wonderful conductor and manages the complexities of Requiem with an astuteness that no others following can quite match. A composer's reading of his own music gives valuable insight into his intentions and this disc captures the excitement of a newly created masterpiece. There are now many different recordings available and no doubt, as the years have passed, the technicalities of these later ones will surpass this first one. However, if you wish to engage fully with stunning and original music this is the disc to have.
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on 15 March 2013
Much better than the Rattle version in production terms. I found the 'hiss' in the Rattle recording annoying. This recording, even though it was earlier, has been re-mastered and sounds fantastic!
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