Friday, August 12, 2011

Benjamin Britten - War Requiem, Vishnevskaya, Pears, Fischer-Dieskau, LSO, Britten (Decca - Set252/3)

Benjamin Britten can be one of the least mentioned conductors of the 20th century due to him being apart from the herd of composers who were in search of the new. I found that a little weird while saying since I am a huge follower of that herd, but credit needs to be given where needed.

Britten was born in 1913 just before the WWI and due to late maturity on his part, he was extremely shocked by the WWII. He is known to be an introvert having hard time maintaining friendships both on personal and professional levels apart from his lover Peter Pears. He was a pacifist and was against any kind of war. This and the life story of Wilfred Owen combined directed him into composing the most well known opera among his works, the War Requiem.

War Requiem is based on nine poems by Wilfred Owen who fought/died during the WWII and the latin mass for the dead. The poems of Owen is drawing a picture of war that is pretty much similar to the movies Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. They are interested more in the destruction, suffering and losses caused by war rather than the general poems of the era which are mainly detailing the heroism and conquers. In a famous line, "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity… All a poet can do today is warn." it is evident that he is loathing war as well as all unnecessary choices which are leading to it.

Regarding the composition, it is not an opera that is for the depressed or extreme emotionals. The air is heavy, full of sorrow and destruction with death following every step all the way. With Britten conducting his own composition, the true depth is directly transferred onto the listener and you need to take deep breaths during the performance in order to adjust yourself back into life. It is a devastatingly strong composition which can lead you having thoughts and seeing images which you prefer not to.

This recording has been accepted to be the best among other versions with Galina Vishnevskaya performing miracles as the Soprano. I don't know why, but it took me a little time to adjust to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Baritone style. I can't honestly say that I adored it, while it is certainly not lacking much. It may not be just effective as the composition, yet it may be because he was singing in English. Peter Pears is as always a strength in Tenor and the everlasting component in Britten's compositions. It is known that even Pears could not take a peak while Britten was composing and several quarrels have occurred as a result. However, I can frankly say that it seems Britten composed the Tenor acts solely based on thinking Pears's singing style.

War Requiem has it's premiere in 1962 at the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral which commissioned the work at the first place. The performance was recorded in 1963 when it already had a huge following and sold over 250.000 copies in a year. It can easily be said that this is an unbelievable record for 20th century compositions since his contemporaries were leveling at around 10.000 based on their experimental approach. Schoenberg, Berg, Kagel and Cage were even booed at their premieres. Britten came to be the source of classical music lovers to look after since Wagner, Strauss and Mahler while the newer generation's majority was following the future contemporaries.

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