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Britten's War Requiem

When Benjamin Britten, a pacifist and conscientious objector, was commissioned to compose a work to mark the consecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, whose original 14th-century structure was destroyed in a 1940 German air bombing, he made an unorthodox decision that would carve out a unique position in twentieth-century choral music. Instead of writing a purely liturgical work, Britten interspersed the Latin Requiem Mass with nine poems by the World War One poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), who died tragically on the battlefield in 1918. The result, spread across a monumental 90-minute canvas, is a moving commentary on the horrors of war and a cri de couer for global peace. Scenes of violence, introspection, and prayer create an emotional arch in which mourning and renewal are never far apart. Combining dense post-tonal harmony with floatingly spare instrumental textures, the War Requiem is conceived on the grandest scale. With two orchestras, an adult choir, children’s choir, and three vocal soloists, it is as technically complex and logistically challenging to perform as it is emotionally arresting to hear. A live performance, then, is bound to stir the senses. Recorded at Hamer Hall, this ‘tightly cohesive’ (Classic Melbourne) rendition under MSO Chief Conductor Jaime Martin captures the pathos and poignancy of Britten’s setting. International artists Toby Spence (tenor), David Greco (baritone) and Samantha Clarke (soprano) deliver commanding solo performances, flanked by the MSO Chorus and acclaimed children’s choir Gondwana Voices.

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