Britten: War Requiem
- Winchester Cathedral
A charity concert in aid of Combat Stress: find out about their work.
The performance started with a selection of writing by Wilfred Owen read by Harry Culverhouse.
Claire Rutter – soprano
Justin Lavender – tenor
Stephen Gadd – baritone
Winchester Music Club
Winchester College Glee Club
Winchester College Quiristers directed by Malcolm Archer
Winchester Music Club Orchestra
Rebecca Totterdell – leader
Southern Pro Musica conducted by Carl Clausen
Nicholas Wilks – conductor
View concert and rehearsal pictures.
by Duncan Eves
An edited version of this full review appeared in the December 6th edition of The Hampshire Chronicle.
Large forces cope admirably with complex textures
November 2013 marks the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the coming year will see performances of his music very much to the fore. It was, therefore, good to find Winchester Music Club getting in early with their powerful performance of the War Requiem, originally commissioned to celebrate the re-building of Coventry Cathedral in 1962 after the devastating damage inflicted on the old cathedral by blanket bombing in 1940. In a stroke of genius Britten sought to combine the timeless liturgy of the Latin Requiem Mass with the noble and Christian sentiments of Wilfred Owen’s poetry. The War Requiem operates in three distinct areas, both musically and spatially: a large choir and orchestra with soprano soloist takes the listener through the solemn ritual of the Mass, a much smaller orchestra with baritone and tenor soloists (representing German and English soldiers) presents the Owen poems, the horror and the here-and-now of warfare, while a third level is presented by a choir of distant boys’ voices with organ accompaniment, an ethereal, angelic sound far removed from grief and battle. The spatial separation was maintained at this performance.
In an effective, dramatic move, the concert began with actor Harry Culverhouse, dressed as Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen MC, reading a letter that Owen wrote to his mother from the Western Front, followed by his famous poem Dulce et Decorum Est.
The opening funereal tread of the War Requiem was handled most effectively, the dissonant, deliberately mournful sound of the choir contrasting with the angelic sound of the boys. In the vastness of the cathedral acoustic musical detail can often be swamped, but the large forces coped admirably in the complex textures of the Dies Irae and Libera Me. The Lacrymosa was most moving and soprano Claire Rutter floated her sobbing phrases over the choir with exquisite control, while tenor Justin Lavender gave a poignant rendition of the poem ‘Futility’. Later on he was equally poignant in ‘One ever hangs’.
Both male soloists made a fine blend in the poem about Abraham and Isaac and their narration of the slaughter of the ‘seed of Europe’ was excellent, as was their final contribution, Owen’s magnificent ‘Strange Meeting’, where the baritone, Stephen Gadd, held the cathedral in absolute silence as he brought the poem to its climax.
The great choral eruptions of the Dies Irae and Sanctus were suitably spectacular and the Libera Me had moments of real terror. All credit to the Music Club orchestra in this challenging score: many excellent solos were heard in the course of the performance. The transitions to and from the main orchestra and Southern Pro Musica (admirably conducted by Hampshire Youth Orchestra’s conductor Carl Clausen) were skilfully handled and Nicholas Wilks presided over the massed forces with his usual flair and authority. But, in the end, the evening belonged to Benjamin Britten: he modestly thought ‘the idea was good’, but we all recognised a work of genius.