Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more

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.
77 Comments| 131 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
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.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 26 June 2013
I heard Galina singing an excerpt from Britten's Requiem on the BBC, yet when I obtained the set (via Amazon), I was sadly disappointed. Galina's vocals were but brief and rare on the tracks. An extraordinary voice such as hers deserved better...... KF
33 Comments|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
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.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
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.
0Comment| 14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 15 July 2012
If there is anyone new to this greatly-acclaimed work, or to this famous recording, then all I can say is just do not hesitate to make the purchase!
Composed by commission for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, Britten juxtaposed settings of the latin requiem mass with those of the poems of Wilfred Owen, creating a work that still challenges, and has ever since found itself acclaimed as one of the greatest works -and not merely of the 20th century.
Set principally on three levels, the latin mass for the dead is sung by massed chorus and the soprano soloist, accompanied by a large orchestra.
These are interspersed with the Owen poems set for two 'soldiers'accompanied by chamber ensemble.
Thirdly,a boys choir adds further commentary.
On this recording -which took place soon after the first performances- with the soloists for whom it was conceived,Britten himself conducted.
With the devastation of World War II still not such a distant memory -and in the midst of the 'Cold War' which had itself prevented the soprano soloist Galina Vishnevskaya from participating in the first performances- this unique recording somehow encapsulated the profound pervading aura of that era. Above the often turbulent orchestration, Vishnevskaya's declamatory role is one of authority, yet in the 'Lacrymosa'
her exchanges with Peter Pears have heart-rending eloquence.
The perfectly apposite timbres of Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau remain peerless in their roles, whilst the distanced sound of the boys choir sounds as if 'lambs to the slaughter.'
The work and recording utterly encapsulates in Owen's words 'the war and the pity.'
To sum up, this recording is surely one which remains in itself a true piece of art.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 3 March 2011
The term "classic recording" is overworked but in this case is wholly apt. Britten's emotive fusion of the Latin Dead Mass and Wilfred Owen's deeply moving war poems was a stroke of genius, even if structurally the whole is too dependent on the Verdian model. The flawless performance is matched by truly great sound, very nicely remastered for the 21st century. Britten's meticulous conducting is highlighted nicely in the rehearsal extracts, along with a typically English self-deprecating humour. No other recording has matched this first for intensity and sheer quality and, to be honest, even if its sound quality is one day surpassed none is ever likely too. As a work it is on an altogether higher plane than Arthur Bliss' still fine symphony 'Morning Heroes', which also used a poem by Owen amongst its texts and with which the War Requiem is coupled on EMI.Britten - War Requiem; Bliss - Morning Heroes

If other large-scale, choral-and-orchestral works by British composers are of interest, look no further than Havergal Brian. His infamous, Guiness-Book-of-Records-listed First Symphony, "The Gothic", is a very dofferent response to the aftermath of war, taking a Faustian route although composed in the decade after the end of the Great War, which was Owen's conflict. Brian's other choral symphony, No 4 "Das Siegeslied", is shorter but still on a massive scale. Setting the bellicose Psalm 67 - 'Let God Arise, Let His Enemies Be Scattered' - in German, it seems to depict a nation gearing up for war: that it was written in 1933 of all years suggests remarkable foreknowledge! Both are available on Marco Polo or Naxos but 'The Gothic' is also available from Testament in Sir Adrian Boult's performance, made just a few years after this War Requiem.Havergal Brian: Symphony No. 1 'The Gothic'Symphony No 1Symphony 1 " Gothic "Symphony 4 / Das Siegeslied
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
VINE VOICEon 27 March 2012
I first heard this version during the late 1980s on LP and was very impressed with not only the recording, but more importantly the performance. Now recognised as a classic work of a great composer, this version can never be surpassed. I have also heard another version recorded by Sir Simon Rattle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Elisabeth Soderstrom, Robert Tear and Thomas Allen being the soloists. This dates from 1983. I enjoyed the performance, but the recording was terribly unbalanced with the soloists being too far forward and the orchestra barely audible at times. This version, produced by John Culshaw is wonderfully balanced throughout, with the soloists being clear and the orchestra and chorus sounding just right, never too loud, or too soft. It is an extraordinary work, profoundly moving at times, depicting the horrors of war, rather than glorifying it. The poems of Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action barely a week before the armistice in November 1918, bear the testament of a lost youth, 'My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the Pity. . . .All a poet can do is warn.' Supreme words indeed.

Benjamin Britten in his wisdom, had composed a work of genius by interspersing nine poems of Owen along with the Latin text of the Requiem Mass, thus creating one of the great choral works of the 20th century.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 7 November 2013
I thought I'd like this, as I played it many years ago - but I don't - it's kind of cold
11 Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
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.
0Comment| 18 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Need customer service? Click here

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)