The Organ

Britten's War Requiem

The City of Birmingham Choir and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Adrian Lucas
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
13th November 2004

Britten's War Requiem nowadays seems like a musical cenotaph, liquid architecture whose warning to avoid conflict has never been heeded. A cruel twist today is that in his recourse to the compassionate poetry of Wilfred Owen, penned during that "war to end all wars" which began 90 years ago, the composer emphasised, and empathised with a certain concept of nobility between fighting enemies, all in hell together, which can no longer obtain.

How can the consoling setting of "Strange Meeting", two combatants from opposite sides embracing in the afterlife, possibly apply to countless civilians heedlessly slaughtered in our "smart" battles?

Such thoughts came flooding at Remembrance-tide, and especially with the moving introduction to this performance, when in a simple production by Michael Blood and perceptively presented by Gordon Mursell, Dean of Birmingham, Andy Hockley read some Owen and we heard original poems from David Hart and Thomas Kunst from Leipzig.

The actual music, one quibble apart, was stunningly performed under Adrian Lucas, in certainly the most important concert so far in his two-year tenure as conductor of the City of Birmingham Choir. To these he joined his 'other' choir, the Worcester Festival Choral Society, and choristers from Birmingham and Worcester Cathedrals, and all concerned sang with superb clarity and a wonderful command of dynamics. The CBSO played with both brilliance and sensitivity.

Tenor James Gilchrist and baritone Peter Savidge brought a persuasive immediacy of tone to the Owen settings which interperse the Latin liturgy, and it was only in those traditional parts of the score that one wished that the willing and accomplished soprano Julie Cooper could have been given her rightful place behind the orchestra, among the chorus, where her contributions would have gained more impact. Instead she was placed alongside her soloist colleagues at the front of the stage, as in any other "stand and deliver" oratorio.

Christopher Morley