Author Topic: Britten's War Requiem  (Read 161 times)

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Online vandermolen

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Britten's War Requiem
« on: July 17, 2019, 10:21:00 AM »
Having recently been to Aldeburgh and The Maltings at Snape I thought that I should listen to more Britten. Not especially liking opera that rules out a lot of his output. However, I have always thought highly of the War Requiem, which I think is a magnificent work and which I have been lucky enough to hear live. I remember a very moving performance in the Albert Hall with the ethereal boy's choir in the roof. Anyway my question here is: what is your favourite recording of Britten's War Requiem if you have one? I recently bought the recording (Testament) of the first performance in Coventry Cathedral from 1962. Despite some missed cues and other problems I was very gripped and moved by the performance. Better recorded is the one conducted by Herbert Kegel with forces from Dresden and Leipzig (Brilliant label - picture below). It is very slow at the start but the performance has impressive gravity. My other favourite performance is a recent release conducted by Karel Ancerl with Czech forces. I have no doubt that Ancerl's tragic family history (wiped out in the Holocaust) will have impacted on his performance. I only have the famous Britten Decca performance on LP but know how highly it is regarded. I also have versions by Hickox and Rattle (interestingly and appropriately coupled with 'Morning Heroes' by Bliss) a version on Naxos, which was not so highly thought of I seem to recall and a BBC Music Magazine version which I haven't yet heard. I've played the War Requiem right through about four times in the last few days and am glad that I have been reacquainted with its greatness. Any views?
« Last Edit: July 17, 2019, 10:23:30 AM by vandermolen »
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2019, 11:19:00 AM »
Of the ones you cite, the only one I've heard is Britten's own, which deserves its acclaim. That said, the work really cries out for modern sound, and of those, this one with Noseda on LSO Live is thrilling.

Of the excellent soloists, Bostridge seems to be an acquired taste for some, but I find him well-cast here.



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Online vandermolen

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2019, 12:18:57 PM »
Of the ones you cite, the only one I've heard is Britten's own, which deserves its acclaim. That said, the work really cries out for modern sound, and of those, this one with Noseda on LSO Live is thrilling.

Of the excellent soloists, Bostridge seems to be an acquired taste for some, but I find him well-cast here.



--Bruce
Thanks Bruce. I'll definitely look out for the Noseda recording.
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Offline Roasted Swan

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2019, 01:12:03 PM »
Having recently been to Aldeburgh and The Maltings at Snape I thought that I should listen to more Britten. Not especially liking opera that rules out a lot of his output. However, I have always thought highly of the War Requiem, which I think is a magnificent work and which I have been lucky enough to hear live. I remember a very moving performance in the Albert Hall with the ethereal boy's choir in the roof. Anyway my question here is: what is your favourite recording of Britten's War Requiem if you have one? I recently bought the recording (Testament) of the first performance in Coventry Cathedral from 1962. Despite some missed cues and other problems I was very gripped and moved by the performance. Better recorded is the one conducted by Herbert Kegel with forces from Dresden and Leipzig (Brilliant label - picture below). It is very slow at the start but the performance has impressive gravity. My other favourite performance is a recent release conducted by Karel Ancerl with Czech forces. I have no doubt that Ancerl's tragic family history (wiped out in the Holocaust) will have impacted on his performance. I only have the famous Britten Decca performance on LP but know how highly it is regarded. I also have versions by Hickox and Rattle (interestingly and appropriately coupled with 'Morning Heroes' by Bliss) a version on Naxos, which was not so highly thought of I seem to recall and a BBC Music Magazine version which I haven't yet heard. I've played the War Requiem right through about four times in the last few days and am glad that I have been reacquainted with its greatness. Any views?

I like all the versions you mention.  One I would add is a live performance by Jeffrey Tate with the Jeunesse Musicales Orchestra.  Certainly a work that seems to work even better with the tension of live performance.  The version I have NOT heard is the video of Andris Nelsons back in Coventry Cathedral with the CBSO - the reviews I recall were uniformly good.

I like Ancerl and Kegel because of the choral sound - those Eastern European choirs have a 'density' of choral tone that British choirs simply don't achieve.......

Online vandermolen

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2019, 11:00:58 PM »
I like all the versions you mention.  One I would add is a live performance by Jeffrey Tate with the Jeunesse Musicales Orchestra.  Certainly a work that seems to work even better with the tension of live performance.  The version I have NOT heard is the video of Andris Nelsons back in Coventry Cathedral with the CBSO - the reviews I recall were uniformly good.

I like Ancerl and Kegel because of the choral sound - those Eastern European choirs have a 'density' of choral tone that British choirs simply don't achieve.......
Thank you RS. I've also read a rave review of the Andris Nelson recording. Your point about Ancerl and Kegel is interesting and I take your point.
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2019, 11:57:23 PM »
I don't much like vocal music in general, but I do think the War Requiem is the single outstanding British musical work of the 20th century, the best since Purcell indeed.  Ok, maybe since the Messiah.

I think Britten's own recording on Decca is indispensible - particularly for the contribution of Galina Vishnevskaya who is immense in this.  The recording is very good but unfortunately (on both vinyl and my early CD) is afflicted with a high level of tape hiss (early multitrack recording, pre-Dolby).  I don't know if this allegedly remastered version is any better.



The trouble with these "which do you like best" threads is that they rapidly degenerate into a "what versions are there" catalogue.  I'll contribute to the process by saying that I also have Rattle and Noseda - but the recording I invariably turn to, for good modern sound, is Gardiner.

 
« Last Edit: July 18, 2019, 12:06:21 AM by aukhawk »

Offline Biffo

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2019, 12:00:54 AM »
Although I think it is a fine work I can't say that I listen to it very often. I only have the Britten's Decca recording (on LP) and the BBC Legends 1969 recording of Giulini with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus with the composer conducting the Melos Ensemble.

Online vandermolen

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2019, 12:44:15 AM »
Thanks to aukhawk and Biffo. I suspect that I'll have to get the Britten Decca recording one day and agree about the importance of the work.
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Online Iota

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2019, 09:36:47 AM »
I only know the Britten (Decca) and Hickox (Chandos) version, and my cup runneth over listening to either of them. It's the sort of piece that could benefit from any number of approaches I think, and this thread reminds me I should get to know more of them. Shattering, vast music, yet as so often with Britten, not a single note seems superfluous. I always get chills up my spine in the Sanctus e.g, where it's as if a broken mirror seems to reflect far more truthfully and powerfully than an unbroken one.

The Kegel, Noseda and Gardiner above sound interesting, though they all do really, I'll see what I can track down.

However, I have always thought highly of the War Requiem, which I think is a magnificent work and which I have been lucky enough to hear live. I remember a very moving performance in the Albert Hall with the ethereal boy's choir in the roof.

Perhaps too early to be the one you attended, but here's a recording on the bbc iplayer of Britten conducting a performance in the Albert Hall in 1964, if you or anyone's interested.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p014g221/war-requiem


I think Britten's own recording on Decca is indispensible - particularly for the contribution of Galina Vishnevskaya who is immense in this.  The recording is very good but unfortunately (on both vinyl and my early CD) is afflicted with a high level of tape hiss (early multitrack recording, pre-Dolby).  I don't know if this allegedly remastered version is any better.

I have the remastered version and the booklet goes into quite a bit of detail about the process they used, all of which doesn't mean a great deal to me, but I certainly don't remember any hiss on the recording, though perhaps at times I wish it had been recorded in a more cathedral-like acoustic ... not sure if this has anything to do with the remastering. Anyway, it makes little difference to me, the recording is still a marvellous experience.

Online vandermolen

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Re: Britten's War Requiem
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2019, 01:43:32 AM »
I only know the Britten (Decca) and Hickox (Chandos) version, and my cup runneth over listening to either of them. It's the sort of piece that could benefit from any number of approaches I think, and this thread reminds me I should get to know more of them. Shattering, vast music, yet as so often with Britten, not a single note seems superfluous. I always get chills up my spine in the Sanctus e.g, where it's as if a broken mirror seems to reflect far more truthfully and powerfully than an unbroken one.

The Kegel, Noseda and Gardiner above sound interesting, though they all do really, I'll see what I can track down.

Perhaps too early to be the one you attended, but here's a recording on the bbc iplayer of Britten conducting a performance in the Albert Hall in 1964, if you or anyone's interested.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p014g221/war-requiem


I have the remastered version and the booklet goes into quite a bit of detail about the process they used, all of which doesn't mean a great deal to me, but I certainly don't remember any hiss on the recording, though perhaps at times I wish it had been recorded in a more cathedral-like acoustic ... not sure if this has anything to do with the remastering. Anyway, it makes little difference to me, the recording is still a marvellous experience.
Thanks for this interesting post Iota. I wouldn't have been a fan on the work as a nine year old so it must have been a more recent performance that I attended. I agree with you about the cathedral acoustic. Despite all the problems of the performance I was very moved by the recently released CD recording of the first performance in Coventry Cathedral. I like the cover photo too:
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).