War Requiem, Philharmonia Orchestra, Maazel, Royal Festival Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
War Requiem, Philharmonia Orchestra, Maazel, Royal Festival Hall
An accomplished performance of Britten's choral classic fails to generate urgency
In this, the work’s 50th anniversary year, there will be a lot of War Requiems. Benjamin Britten’s howl of Pacifist conviction has lost little of its poignancy since its composition – a period marked by the almost continuous military presence of British forces abroad. With action in Afghanistan coming to a close and political stirrings animating the Falklands issue once again, this plaintive reminder of “truth untold”, of the “pity of war” still speaks loudly and directly. In the workmanlike hands of Maazel and the Philharmonia Chorus, heavenly trumpets blare and military glory is neatly debunked, but there’s also a lack – a lack that never quite supplements efficiency into emotional urgency.
It’s hard to imagine a more enticing line-up than this assembled by the Philharmonia Orchestra – Mark Padmore’s ringing English clarity balanced by the Germanic richness of Matthias Goerne (national affiliations that lent an additional shiver of pathos to the final duet), under Lorin Maazel’s secure leadership. The Philharmonia Chorus too, with the additional of their young professional Philharmonia Voices, are arguably the best large-scale chorus in London at the moment, a skill celebrated by Britten’s demanding score.
Only the Hosanna – an epic shout of glory from full choir and orchestra – achieved anything like emotional release
The opening Requiem Aeternam/Kyrie saw the whole work in microcosm. It closed with a radiant, impossibly well-tuned major chord from the choir – that glance heavenward Britten permits us, even in the darkest moments of the work. The muttered, fractured little cries of the opening however were far too secure (not to mention loud) to offer us the doubt, the desperation, that Britten also encodes into his music. At no point amid Britten’s inexorable chromatic build-up were we uncertain of our redemption; the anguished choices and uncertainties of war were never ours to fathom.
Last October’s performance by the LSO and Noseda took its audience to a place of deep discomfort, courting technical danger in order to shock the War Requiem out of its pipe-and-slippers choral-society classic status and into new life. It worked; throughout last night’s concert it was their brutality and blazing musical risk-taking that haunted my ears.
Part of the issue may have been Maazel’s (pictured above) speeds – mighty and precise rather than the more lithe affairs offered by Noseda. This controlled approach gave the Philharmonia Chorus ample opportunity to demonstrate their tonal flexibility and virtuosity, and passages such as the sudden transition from the Dies Irae to the long lines of the Lachryosa, the dynamic articulation of the Offertorium with its machine-gun consonants, were impressively handled. Yet only the Hosanna – an epic shout of glory from full choir and orchestra – achieved anything like emotional release.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
Delicate Shostakovich, while the Soviet aesthetic is left to Neil Tennant
London's cross-collaborating ensemble wears its USP on its sleeve
International orchestra brings the light of hope in a very dark week
A Macedonian magician whose still waters run deep
All-day Schubert by the sea and a Sibelius symphony in a working potato barn
Much-loved Elgarian completes his oratorios sequence with a subdued coda
Three hefty box sets - each one a winner
The conductor, who has died aged 84, enthusing in 1991 about a masterpiece
Contemporary Danish orchestral music, a nocturnal piano recital and 17th century morris dancing
Pianist and soprano capture Schumann's emotional range, but the tenor seems distracted
Musical showman leads candlelit exploration of magpie composer
Glittering orchestral music from 20th century Spain, contemporary piano miniatures and an accomplished amateur choir