Cher Public

Hold your peace

Given the events currently playing out on the world stage and the fact that this week marks holidays for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, it seems like a good time for something topical, introspective, and non-liturgical: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with Anna Netrebko, Ian Bostrdge, and Thomas Hampson in an incredibly moving performance from the 2013 Salzburger Festspiele. 

It also provides a respite for those of you who might be bombarded with Der Rosenkavalier this week.

And ardent, lifelong pacifist, Britten penned this work in 1961 using as texts nine poems by British soldier Wilfred Owen who was killed in World War I interspersed with traditional Latin requiem texts. The work premiered in 1962 to commemorate the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, which was built after the original structure was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid.

It was conceived for a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), an English tenor (Peter Pears), and a German baritone (Dietrich-Fischer Dieskau), but politics got in the way: Vishnevskaya was denied a visa to leave the USSR so Heather Harper jumped in for her at the premiere.  Vishnevskaya was later able to travel to London for the Decca recording conducted by Britten.

This legendary recording was used as the soundtrack for Derek Jarman’s 1989 film War Requiem, which stars Laurence Olivier as an ageing war veteran in his final screen appearance, and Tinda Swinton as a nurse.  I highly recommend you seek this out on DVD if you haven’t yet experienced it.

Britten said of his music, “I hope it’ll make people think a bit.”  On the title page of the score he quoted Wilfred Owen:

My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity …
All a poet can do today is warn.

  • phf655

    Apparently the conductor was Antonio Pappano, but you would never know it from this post. Isn’t that a significant piece of information that should have been included? Just a few weeks ago I heard a very moving performance conducted by Nezet-Seguin in Philadephia, with a wonderful soprano from the Mariinsky named Tatiana Pavlovskaya, who should be better known. A few years ago there was a wonderful performance in David Geffen hall, which featured the London Symphony and Noseda, which is available on a ‘LSO live’ CD. From listening to the first few minutes, this one from Salzburg is very fine indeed.

    • Cameron Kelsall

      The performances in Philadelphia were conducted by Charles Dutoit, not YNS.

    • Liz.S

      While you were at it, perhaps you should have add this is Coro & Orch of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

      I remember Noseda’s intense War Requiem at Lincoln Center, it was so marvelous -- not just singers and LSO but I was so impressed how Noseda nuanced the chorus. Unforgettable.

      Yeah -- what happened to Uncle Charlie? I thought Dutoit was conducting too

      • Cameron Kelsall

        I was at two of the three War Requiem performances and it was most certainly Dutoit on the podium.

    • The complete credits for every performance are ALWAYS posted on the corresponding page at my Mixcloud site. There is not always room or reason to mention every participant in the posts I write for Parterre. Please click on the cloud icon on the upper right side of the box with the link to the audio and it will take you to the page at Mixcloud with all of the credits, a photo, and when necessary (and available) a link to libretto and/or background reading material.

      If clicking on the cloud is too much for you, here is part of what you would find:

      Benjamin Britten

      Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor
      Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
      Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
      Antonio Pappano, conductor
      Großes Festspielhaus
      Salzburger Festspiele
      18 August 2013

      Anna Netrebko, soprano
      Ian Bostridge, tenor
      Thomas Hampson, baritone

      I. Requiem aeternam
      II. Dies irae
      III. Offertorium
      IV. Sanctus
      V. Agnus Dei
      VI. Libera me

      Photo: Benjamin Britten

  • Camille

    I remember very well all the fervent excitement about this work in the sixties--and yet--I shied away from it at the time. I am not quite sure why.

    Maybe it’s time to consider it after all these years. And thank you for mention of the movie with Sir Laurence & the ever amazing Tilda—should be well worth a look.

    • Do reconsider it, there’s nothing to shy away from except for those (they exist) allergic to Britten.

      • Camille

        Thank you for the encouragement. I shall give it the old college try sometime in the coming week. The theme of “war”, which we thought somehow would miraculously become obsolete with the dawning of the Aquarian Age, is still resolutely and implacably with us, and so….

        Bon voyage,
        and please have a big plate of fesson joon while in Iran and think of me.
        My favorite dish!

        • I thought that down at the Village Vortex your favourite dish was fish. If I don’t find fessenjoun will dizi do?

          • Camille

            I had absolutely NO idea what the Village Vortex meant! And I do NOT have a sister named Eileen!

            Well, I couldn’t go to sleep right away last night so I did listen to this work and I found it rather interesting and the singers various tics used to good effect. I will give it another spin and then graduate to The Great Galina’s version.

            I also do not know of dizi
            And know not what dizi do…?

            Bon voyage!

            • Get hip, Camille.

            • Camille

              I dont even know HOW…………./!!!!!!!!!!/!/!/!/!/????///!!!!

            • Sweetie darling: this TOWN is pretty WONDERFUL, don’t you agree?

            • Camille

              Um, er, stumble [blush] ah git conFUZED, Missus Jungfer, ‘twixt Wonderful Town and On The Town. Ah know ah seen one of ’em but dont know whichen!!!

              It wuz ‘n the Park, ya know, the Central One.

              I aina Neoo YAWKER!!!!

              I DO know that you meet the most Wunnerfull people on Christopher Street!!! Especially at Aedes Venustas!!!

              Pardonnez-moi--, c’est mon premier voyage!!!

            • La Cieca

              Wonderful Town is the one about two sisters who move to Greenwich Village and try to become successful in 1930s New York.


              On the Town is the one about three sailors on a 24 hour pass in New York City and the girls they meet along the way.


            • southerndoc1

              And cub reporter Ruth is usually played by une dame d’une certaine age -- Rosalind Russell, Lauren Bacall, Nanette Fabray, etc.

            • Age is masculine. I’m proof of it.

            • southerndoc1

              “Age is masculine. I’m proof of it.”

              So was Roz.

            • Camille

              Okay. Gotcha! I always get those two mixed up and I blame all that on Lenny.

              I saw On the Town at MoMA, ah reckon, a couple years ago or I imagine I did during that Gene Kelly Lovathon. He is positively wonderful.

              Now it comes back: it was that lady Lea Dellaria who sang that song about cooking in the Park--and it was about fifteen years or more ago now. I reckon that was the other one — Wonderful Town — but I still think it’s all Lenny’s doin’

  • Leontiny

    That is the most beautiful Easter present, Jungfer. Thank you.
    I’ve been lucky with this in live performance. Christine Brewer, Michael Schade, Russell Braun as the most memorable, and before them Ben Heppner, Hakan Hagegard, and Elena Prokina, and now this. At the end of the Schade et al performance the conductor turned to the audience visibly moved and ashen faced. Wilfred Owens’ words are terribly moving, and resonant today.

  • Didn’t Anna Netrebko go a bit astray in the Rex Tremendae there?