Monday, 10 October 2011

Britten War Requiem at the Barbican

It seemed a remarkable co-incidence that the weekend that saw us going to the Barbican to hear the LSO performing Britten's War Requiem also saw the fascinating documentary on BBC4 on Rostropovich. Full of archive footage and interviews with pupils, and his family (Galina Vishnevskaya and their two daughters), the documentary was profoundly illuminating about Rostropovich the man and the musician.

I associate him with the War Requiem because during the 1980's when I was in the London Philharmonic Choir, he conducted the work at the Royal Festival Hall with the LPO and a cast which included Vishnevskaya.  As a conductor Rostropovitch seemed to spend an alarming time telling funny stories to the choir, but still seemed to be able to have the finely tuned ear to pull apart brass fanfares and put them together again properly. Working under him on the War Requiem was an incredible experience.

Sunday's performance of the work was intended to be conducted by Sir Colin Davis but he was replaced by Gianandrea Noseda, a conductor I know mainly be reputation. The stage at the Barbican Hall was full to overflowing. In fact, it had been brought so far forward that I did wonder quite how many seats in the stalls had a full view of the stage. Certainly our seats, labelled restricted view, had a view so restricted that we could see none of the soloists, but had a wonderful view of the rear first violins including some truly fabulous shoes. Luckily there were some empty seats so we were able to trade up, once the doors had shut.

Noseda seems to be a conductor who involves himself a great deal in what the chorus were doing, it was highly illuminating to watch him conducting them. The result was a highly detailed, rather stunning performance from the London Symphony Chorus in which text and quietness seemed paramount; not something that always happens in a work with so many noisy passages.

The male soloists were Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside. I don't think I have heard Bostridge do anything better; he seemed deeply attuned to the music and the distinctive way that Britten set Wilfred Owen's poetry. The result was less highly mannered than some of his performances, instead it was thoughtful, committed and seemed to be strongly felt. Keenlyside was equally strong, with a comparable feeling for the words and even, at times, seeming to me to evoke the spirit of Fischer Dieskau in the music.

The soprano soloist was a young lyric soprano from Slovenia, Sabina Cvilak. On a crowded stage, she had the disadvantage of being placed with the choir, behind the orchestra. Whilst her voice did not have the edge to it that Vishnevskaya brought to the part,  Cvilak displayed a nicely focussed lyric voice, with something of a Slavic edge to it which meant that she soared nicely over the orchestra and cut through in just the right way. There seems to be something slightly implacable about Britten's writing for the soprano solo in this work, which Cvilak captured well.

The orchestra, needless to say, were also on fine form, with the fanfares and trenchant marches, has always evoked for me the First War rather than the Second and here, at times the results were shattering.

1 comment:

  1. You should have been in the cheap balcony seats, with the angels. Boys Choir was tremendous also.

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