War Requiem, Op.66
Evelina Dobraceva (soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor) & Matthias Goerne (baritone)
London Philharmonic Choir
Trinity Boys Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Neville Creed [chamber orchestra conductor]
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 12 October, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Having kicked myself for missing Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO’s Britten Peter Grimes recently, I could at least console myself with this searching performance of his War Requiem. As befits the remit of the Southbank Centre’s The Rest is Noise festival, this was a beautifully prepared performance that took nothing for granted and, to judge from their receptive stillness, one that spoke directly to the full-house audience – Jurowski’s long silence at the end didn’t seem remotely contrived.
War Requiem may be the most public of Britten’s works, but it is the music’s consistent tug towards the remoteness of the Requiem text and the interior world of Wilfred Owen’s poems that put the big choral and symphonic elements in their proper context. I have heard performances of War Requiem in the Royal Festival Hall that dealt better with the significant element in Britten’s overall scheme of distance. The choir’s muttered opening prayer for the dead had just a shade too much vitality, the leanness of the main orchestra’s sound to begin with was markedly similar to that of the 12-strong chamber orchestra, and the sound from the boys’ choir and chamber organ, placed outside the auditorium on the level four concourse, stretched audibility – of course you want a disembodied, unearthly sound, but you do need to hear it actually rather that subliminally. Distance and perspective are part of War Requiem, simply because it’s the breaching of the differences between the three separate groupings that plays such a crucial role in the work’s impact.
The focus settled quickly, though, with Ian Bostridge’s and Matthias Goerne’s visceral delivery of the Owen poems. Bostridge gave the settings’ anger and resignation and operatic heft, perhaps too much so in his exaggerated word-painting at the start of ‘Strange Meeting’, but he was magnificent in ‘Move him into the sun’ and overwhelming in the ‘Agnus Dei’ – the depth, stillness and clarity at the centre of his voice, his special leaning on dissonances and his bending of pitch worked expressive wonders. As one of Britten’s desired trio of English, German and Russian singers, Goerne gave Owen’s already vivid imagery additional purchase with his very Teutonic pronunciation – different from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s more-suave approach – making them even more direct. The weight he poured into ‘After the blast of lightning’ was stupendous, and the easy, rhythmic ensemble he and Bostridge achieved in the close harmony of the Abraham and Isaac duet was matchless. Best of all, though, was the gradual abandonment of self he revealed in ‘Strange Meeting’, as heightened an expression of bleak emptiness as you’re likely to hear.
Evelina Dobraceva (a late replacement for Tatiana Monogarova) thrillingly evoked memories of Galina Vishnevskaya in the gleaming leaps, ample volume and sheer drama of her solos – her ‘Liber scriptus’ shone like a torch. The chamber orchestra, expertly cued and conducted by Neville Creed, gave an almost Schoenbergian expressionism to the Owen settings and ghosted the two singers with an eerie, free precision. The London Philharmonic Choir had a similar disciplined freedom, and sang with uncompromising attack. I loved the theatre of the sections of the choir sitting down after its final contribution to the ‘Libera me’, that dark chasm realised with chilling accuracy by Jurowski and the LPO.
- LPO www.lpo.org.uk
- Southbank Centre www.southbankcentre.co.uk
- Reviews of LPO Britten concerts:
- Prince of the Pagodas … Cello Symphony
- Peter Grimes (London)
- Peter Grimes (Birmingham)