While the massed ranks of the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, soloists, and conductor sat shrouded in darkness, Timothy Bond, at the Royal Albert Hall organ, revealed a hitherto unheard remnant by the composer of the main event.
While the massed ranks of the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, soloists, and conductor sat shrouded in darkness, Timothy Bond, at the Royal Albert Hall organ, revealed a hitherto unheard remnant by the composer of the main event. Benjamin Britten's Voluntary on Tallis's Lamentations seemed strangely prophetic, its fractured dissonance like an unsettling upbeat to the impassioned exhortations of arguably the greatest pacifistic statement in music of our time: Britten's War Requiem. That the world has listened but plainly not heard serves only to make its message more imperative.
Imperative, was certainly Sir Colin Davis's way with the work. No pauses between movementsto break the communion between audience and performers. An inexorable tread from the murmured incantations of the opening "Requiem aeternam" to the apocalypse and aftermath of the "Libera me"; one breath, one statement, one destination. Our own Calvary, unless we heed the words of the poet. Britten's device of playing off the text of the Requiem against the terrible first-hand prophecies of Wilfred Owen's poetry is still shockingly apposite. And especially when the poetry is nailed, as here, by two singers who instinctively know how to make its words resonate.
Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside were a quite exceptional pairing for a work forever haunted by the voices for whom it was written - Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Individually, and together, Bostridge and Keenlyside made us forget the very particular intonation of their predecessors. They kept the delivery simple but engaged, coloured just enough to make key words and phrases tell. The contemptuous consonants of Bostridge in "What passing-bells"; the mellowed despondency of Keenlyside in "Bugles sang"; the shrill, demented marching song that has our comrades in arms laughing death in the face; and death itself in "Strange Meeting", the poem through which Britten so movingly brings the hope of reconciliation.
I don't think I have ever heard Bostridge sing more beautifully than he did in the poem that Britten unforgettably juxtaposes with the "Lacrimosa" - "Move him into the sun". The ache of it was heartbreaking. The soprano soloist Susan B Anthony, however, was disappointing in this same number. The pitching was neither as limpid nor as sure as it needs to be, sounding preoccupied with the technical at the expense of the inspirational.
The voices of innocence - the excellently throaty Finchley Children's Music Group - were heard "in paradisum", and the superb LSO Chorus delivered one final benediction. As Owen said: "All a poet can do today is warn." We still need poets.
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