on 5 October 2012
Any recording of the War Requiem faces a tough comparison with the iconic original recording conducted by Britten himself. This has so much become THE performance that there are some who will find it hard to replace it in their affections with a more recent reading. For my part, I found this new disc, recorded on the 50th anniversary of the original performance in Coventry Cathedral, both thrilling and intensely moving. In truth, I prefer Erin Wall (soprano) and Mark Padmore (tenor) to their counterparts Galina Vishnevskaya and Peter Pears on the original recording. Diction and singing styles have changed in the last 50 years and I now find the original singers too "plummy" and not as moving as the current soloists. Andris Nelsons and the orchestra(s) play the piece beautifully, and the main choir are simply magical, especially in quiet passages. The girls' choir, placed at the opposite end of the cathedral, are equally moving.
The picture quality is as good as it gets, and the shots of the old and new cathedral during the performance add to the drama and profundity of the piece. The original recording was not made in the cathedral itself as church acoustics are seldom ideal. In this case there are no acoustical problems and both soloists, choirs and orchestra are all caught in crystal clear thrilling sound, free of any distortion. This should come as no surprise because the credits show that the recording was produced by Paul Smaczny and his team from Accentus, who have won Gramophone's Best DVD of the Year Award for the last two years' running - in fact, the sole winners of this award to date. I would not be surprised if the present disc was a contender for next year's award
One technical point: the main menu gives only the choices of playing the concert or watching trailers. The default mode is PCM stereo with no subtitles. To change the audio setting and get subtitles you have to pull up the pop-up menu on your remote.
So, I recommend that you watch this performance, and be prepared to be thrilled - and moved.
Of course it's difficult to look any further than Britten's own recording with the soloists that he chose for this piece and as he was a good conductor, we have to assume he got the kind of performance he wanted.
However, technology moves on and this piece is ideally suited to surround sound, due to the nature of the forces used and its Cathedral setting. The War Requiem was commissioned to mark the re-building of Coventry Cathedral after WWII and this performance celebrates the 50th anniversary of that event. While Britten made his recording in a studio, due to the technical difficulties of a live recording - now we have the technology to do justice to the Cathedral acoustic of the actual space for which this was written.
Blu Ray now allows us to see this historic event in high definition - so we can follow the various soloists, chamber group and see that the youth choir is behind us. But it also allows us to hear in surround sound, exactly how Britten envisaged this piece. He set it up with the male soloists close in the foreground, speaking to us directly, relating "human" experiences of war through the poetry of Wilfrid Owen. They are surrounded by a small chamber group, which surround sound allows us to identify clearly - set up almost like a Jazz ensemble, again more human in dimensions.
Behind this group we have the much larger forces of the full orchestra and huge choir, who sing the Latin mass, which is more removed from us and gives the perspective of organised religion, with the soprano soloist in the centre of this group. Finally we have the "removed" youth choir, who come from all around us in surround sound and echo from the top of the Cathedral acoustic, sounding like ethereal angels, the "voice of Heaven".
All these "spatial" details are evident in the Dolby Digital surround sound image - which makes this a genuine improvement. The sound is stunning - full bass and every detail of the large cathedral acoustic is captured. Balance is excellent and although this is a live recording, the audience never intrudes - the long silence held at the end of the piece is respected perfectly. Despite the large forces used, there is no distortion and no harshness to the large choir sound (as there is in the recent Dudamel Mahler 8th).
All in all, this is as close to a perfect performance as you could wish and it has to be the top recommendation for a surround sound version of the War Requiem. Given the historic nature of this celebration, it is a fitting tribute.
on 3 December 2012
I attended the first performance of this work and had friends in the choir. Not a good performance, but a wonderful memory. Subsequently I have heard many renderings and own the recording conducted by Britten. Andris Nelsons and the CBSO have given us another memorable event to treasure, with the setting enhancing rather than detracting from the music.
Two soloists are replacements - I had been looking forward to hearing Thomas Quasthoff in the bass role - but both surpassed my expectations. The cathedral acoustic is notoriously tricky and the placing of choir and orchestra facing the altar seems to work well. Nelsons achieved a long and moving silence at the end of the work which is seldom possible. As we come to Britten's centenary next year, this recording would come near the top of my list to recommend to fans of his music - certainly those unsure of their views should give it a try.
on 16 October 2012
Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, one of the twentieth century's greatest choral works, was first performed in May 1962 upon the consecration of Coventry's St. Michael's Cathedral, erected next to the ruins of the medieval Cathedral destroyed in a German air raid in November 1940. Following the composer's own recording with the LSO (1963), a number of fine modern readings have been available on CD for quite some time, including Simon Rattle's performance with the CBSO (1983) and Richard Hickox' LSO production (1991). A DVD release was long overdue. Arthaus documents - in excellent audio and brilliant blu-ray HD video - the 50th anniversary performance of the work, recorded in Coventry Cathedral on 30 May 2012. Soloists Erin Wall, Mark Padmore and Hanno Müller-Brachmann join the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Youth Chorus under the direction of the eminently talented young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons. The backdrop of gaunt ruins and the severe setting eloquently underline the Requiem's passionate plea against warfare and for peace on earth - and perhaps the fact that humanity is still anything but at peace today.
The War Requiem is constructed in two huge concentric circles. Embedded in the Latin text of the liturgy for the dead are nine poems by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), British soldier and poet, who was killed shortly before the end of World War I. The poems vividly portray the horrors of war and are sung by the tenor and baritone soloists (accompanied by a smaller chamber group), while the soprano soloist, either alone or with the choir, intones parts of the liturgy. The youth chorus, strategically placed at the Cathedral's opposite end, is heard only three times: in relatively tranquil and peaceful parts. Britten's score is moderately "modern", never atonal, characterized by sharp rhythmic accents, fluctuating harmonies, brief melodic passages and ever-present immense energy. Brass and percussion are often prominent in their portrayal of conflict, brutality and grief. From the initial disquieting chords of the "Requiem aeternam" through the cataclysmic "Dies irae", the militant "Offertorium", the enigmatic "Sanctus" and "Benedictus" to the final "Libera me" with the quietly consoling "In paradisum deducant", this is an incredibly disturbing and equally moving work. Highly recommended to those not quite familiar with it: the journey of repeated listening will be rewarding.
The soloists, choristers and, to a lesser extent, the orchestra musicians are quite challenged by this score and its great demands. In the present recording, all participants excel to the highest standards. The soloists, visibly involved in their parts, shine out consistently, as do the members of the choirs, and the CBSO plays like a world-class ensemble. Andris Nelsons - who frequently consults the score - does a superb job in conveying every detail and nuance as well as the Requiem's spirit as a monumental whole. The profound silence following the performance speaks for itself. This is a keeper.
on 9 October 2012
This is the second video release of what many think is Britten's finest work. The 1963 recording of a broadcast from Tanglewood was brilliant in its day but cannot hold a candle to this new disc in any way. Everything about it is quite splendid and the camera selection and control exceptional. Of course one cannot achieve the three dimensional experience one would have had in the cathedral but that apart this sounds wonderful. Erin Wall, the Canadian Soprano, is plced between the male and female choirs and the German Baritone and British tenor are next to the Latvian conductor. Just the international performer base Britten wanted. Do not hesitate, treat yourself to something special. My skin is still tingling from the mighty climax in the Libera me and I will play this disc many many times.
on 1 December 2012
Caught some of the performance on The Space, rather disgracefully the BBC only had it on Radio 3 although it went out on TV across Europe, The silence at the end tells all. The soloists could not be better and I write as someone who went through the indescribable experience of the first performance half a century ago when it overcame the hazards of the dreadful acoustic affecting most of the audiencce, the recorded sound in this new performance has non of the problems and Andris Nelsons demonstrates yet again his control and dedicated musicianxhip. I do not ever expect to hear a better baritone his intellegence and emotional control is superlative, his english is even better than Fischer-Dieskau
on 17 November 2012
I bought the LPs when they first came out, then the CDs, of the Britten performance. The original recording has been with me for so many years, and I was loath to hear any other, but this latest one on blu-ray ... It is magnificent and brought tears to my eyes! I say no more.
on 18 December 2012
This is an extraordinarily moving video showing the 50th Anniversary celebratory concert at Coventry Cathedral of the War Requiem. Britten wrote the piece for the opening of the cathedral. To hear this moving piece in such as setting is wonderful - the new cathedral with the ruins of the old visible behind the orchestra and chorus is particularly poignant. The CBSO and CBSO choruses (adult and youth) led by Nelsons are breathtakingly good, and the soloists do real justice to the words and music. This is a must for any Britten fan.
on 31 March 2013
I was in the congregation in Coventry Cathedral for the 10th anniversary performance of the War Requiem in 1972 and have the Britten 1963 recording, but this live performance is, for me, now the reference for this inspiring music. The CBSO under Andris Nelsons is superb, the two choirs and soloists splendid, excellent recording with the acoustics working better by placing the orchestra, adult choir and soloists under John Piper's east-facing window, the former Cathedral ruins in the background. I will hear the same performance (but with Kristïne Opolais replacing Erin Wall) in Paris in June 2013 as part of the CBSO's European tour. Most definitely, I highly recommend this DVD.
on 24 July 2013
This live recording of the anniversary performance at Coventry Cathedral has an emotional and musical resonance which cannot be replicated in the concert hall. The power of Britten's work of reconciliation is fully relaised by the CBSO, choruses and soloists.