Magazine article Musical Opinion

Britten: War Requiem

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Britten: War Requiem

Article excerpt

Royal Choral Society Armistice Day

Few need reminding that 2014 sees the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and the 75th anniversary of its successor in 1939, soon Remembrance Sunday the Royal Choral Society's decision to mark the enormity of those events with a performance of Britten's War Requiem could hardly have been more apposite.

As is well known, the work was written to honour the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962, the original having been destroyed by enemy action in 1940. The work spans both conflicts in that the War Requiem is dedicated to the memory of four of Britten's friends, three of whom were killed in World War II on active service, but the work itself connects the Latin liturgy of the Requiem Mass with poetry by the World War I poet Wilfred Owen, himself killed on active service a week before the Armistice was declared in November 1918.

Britten's work is profoundly reconciliatory, without a trace of triumphalism, demonstrated in the nationalities of the three soloists whom he had in mind when composing the work - Russian (the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, British (Peter Pears) and German (Dietrich FischerDieskau) - and it was entirely apposite that for this Remembrance Day performance the original soloists' nationalities were followed.

But the success or otherwise of a performance of this immense work lies principally in the hands of the conductor, and Richard Cooke - the Choir's Music Director, who next year celebrates 20 years in the post - has on many occasions demonstrated his fine qualities in directing the Society in large-scale works, including the War Requiem. …

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