National Youth Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Birmingham <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It's hard to imagine two more different acoustics in which to hear Britten's War Requiem than that of St Paul's Cathedral in London, with its reverberant, marshmallowy sound, and that of one of the world's most admired concert spaces, Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

Whatever the atmospheric benefits of St Paul's, Symphony Hall surely offered a much more immediate encounter with the music. The listener feels very much in the middle of things - "the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle" and "the shrill, demented choirs".

Of course, the hall can also expose the tiniest glitch from among these large forces. Happily, this was a formidably authoritative, full-bodied and detailed account of this many-layered score, under the direction of Richard Hickox.

For the National Youth Orchestra players, whose ages range from 13 to 19, the War Requiem - mixing the text of the Latin Requiem Mass with poems by Wilfred Owen - must belong to a different world and a very different type of warfare.

In contrast to these young people, the solo tenor and baritone - each representing a soldier from opposing armies - brought vast experience. Philip Langridge's interpretation of the tenor solos, to which he applied all his customary beauty of voice and dramatic insight, was every bit as compelling as he is on the recording he made with Hickox.

Replacing an indisposed Neal Davies in both concerts, Stephen Roberts sang with power and bite. The London Symphony Chorus showed great dynamic contrast and vocal agility, while the young voices of Tiffin Boys' Choir echoed ethereally through the open doors of the hall's reverberation chamber. Susan Bullock, singing radiantly from among the chorus, made a heartfelt contribution.

The most electrifying moments came from the instrumentalists, both the band and the solo players making up the small chamber orchestra. Incisive, urgent and fresh in their approach, and displaying maximum orchestral brilliance, these young players left you gasping at their assurance and refinement. It was a performance of immaculate clarity, but of beauty and drama too.