Britten War Requiem, Royal Albert Hall, London
Tuesday 11 November 2008
Every performance of Britten's War Requiem is an occasion - such is the indelible power of a genuine masterpiece.
But the Royal Albert Hall on Remembrance Sunday in the week marking the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice with the Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus and top-flight soloists - unforgettable or what? Well, that rather depended upon where you were sitting. Amongst the press corps at its apex this capacious hall once again proved both a revelation and a curse.
For the bigger picture of Britten's Requiem for the fallen, as envisaged by Antonio Pappano, the tolling death knell, the murmured imploration of voices in darkness, the hopeful enlightenment of the young and innocent from on high - these astonishing sounds seemed suspended in time and space as the opening pages of the work took hold. That Britten conceived the piece acoustically to operate on three distinct planes of sound makes the Albert Hall enough of a surrogate cathedral to fulfil his wishes. But the real masterstroke comes with his interpolation into the Mass of Wilfred Owens' war poems. Now it's personal and intimate and unflinchingly immediate. Aurally, we pull focus on them. Not easy when you are sitting so far away as to be unable to share their confidential tone.
Ian Bostridge and Thomas Hampson did them proud, though, weighing the words judiciously, projecting their painful home truths simply and honestly. But from my seat in the hall the instrumental colours were simply too diffuse to register Britten's miraculous pointing of the words. One juxtaposition still worked its magic: soprano Christine Brewer's achingly beautiful inflection of the "weeping" vocal line of the Lacrimosa alternating with Owen's "Move him into the sun", the alternation growing ever more urgent as yet another young life ebbs away. Was Britten ever more inspired?
And, of course, you would expect Pappano and his Royal Opera forces to inject the requisite theatricality into the big set pieces, most notably the gathering of many voices in the tumultuous Sanctus and still more so the Libera me where the ride to the abyss was suitably precipitous and the indescribable climax where Britten flings down the mother of all minor chords and voices wail in torment once again shook the hall and all of us in it.
The final poem, "Strange Meeting", reunites enemies in death. As Owen himself said: "All the poet can do is warn".
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 3 French woman dies in freak bungee jumping accident
- 4 Greece crisis: Crowdfunding campaign crashes Indiegogo, raises half a million in just three days
- 5 Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to divorce and end their 10-year marriage
The Rolling Stones announce biggest ever touring rock exhibition with Saatchi Gallery
Glastonbury 2015: The best bits you missed from Lionel Richie and the Dalai Lama to The Libertines' secret set
Glastonbury 2015: The picture of a man crowd surfing in a wheelchair is brilliant, but it wasn't taken at Glastonbury
Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James' Twitter Q&A didn't exactly go as planned
Glastonbury 2015: Shocking scenes of rubbish left strewn across campsite as clean-up begins
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS