Sunday, October 23, 2011

War Requiem

This afternoon, LW and I heard Britten's War Requiem (1961-62) performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. Slovenian Sabina Cvilak sang soprano, Ian Bostridge tenor and Simon Keenlyside baritone. I was especially taken by Cvilak's singing. The London Symphony Chorus, directed by Joseph Cullen, and the American Boychoir, directed by Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, completed the roster of performers.

The Requiem has six movements: Requiem aeternam, Dies irae, Offertorium, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Libera Me. In counterpoint to and ironic commentary on the Latin text are poems by Wilfred Owen. The bell-ridden first movement, for instance, is countered by "Anthem for Doomed Youth" ("What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?"). The effect is intended to be jarring, or at least dissonant, but I found myself wishing that Britten had not tried to combine prayer and protest. As a protest, the work came off as hectoring. As a prayer, well, it wasn't one.

"Strange Meeting," the longest poem by Owen in the Requiem, received the most beautiful and poignant musical setting. Bostridge and Keenlyside sang their parts with lyrical sensitivity.

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