Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Bugles sang

What else could it be, on Remembrance Day? And this clip from 1993 is fraught, for me, with sadness for the gap I still feel Slava has left behind him. The late Richard Hickox is there too, conducting the LSO chamber ensemble. It also reminds me that Bryn was a natural from the start. Whatever circus lies in store with his 'Bad Boys' concert tonight at the Royal Festival Hall, my first assignment for what I genuinely believe to be a responsible, highly professional new online arrival in the shape of The Arts Desk, this proves Terfel has always been one of the great singers of this, indeed any age.

As for the War Requiem, I won't be hearing it live this year. Any performance has to be remarkable; last year's with Pappano and Royal Opera forces in the Albert Hall fitted the bill and quenched my thirst for the foreseeable future (by strange coincidence, there in that entry is a photo of another great musician we've lost, Sir Edward Downes). I can't believe I used, in my arrogant adolescence, to be sniffy about Britten's public face in the piece. Even just as a textural juxtaposition of Latin mass and Wilfred Owen poems, minus the music, it would have been a valid statement. As it stands, I can only echo Shostakovich's repeated assertion that this was one of the monuments of the 20th century, comparable only to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (which Shostakovich held in pride of place).

My admirable colleague Jonathan Swain compared recordings of the War Requiem on last Saturday's Building a Library. This link is a fridge note to myself that I have to catch it before it disappears from the 'Listen Again' facility in three days' time, and so should you. Of course I do know which version Jonathan chose, and although I'm sure he has sufficient integrity not to have regarded it as a foregone conclusion, how could it have been otherwise?

So, to conclude, the only possible 'One ever hangs', complete with very sensitive montage. Love the voice or hate it, you have to give Pears the palm for that final 'Dona nobis pacem'. Vishnevskaya told me this single phrase was the epitome of great artistry for her.


Gavin Plumley said...

It is odd to find so much in common with a fellow blogger, but to have points of such wild departure... I have never understood worship of the War Requiem. The insistent tritone, the all-too-obvious links between the Requiem Mass and the Owen (which Owen himself hints at so much more subtly in the texts themselves) and the uneasy tension between Britten's pacifism and not being able to face the consequences of his conscientious objection. Sorry, it's not for me.

David said...

Well, what was good enough for DDS is good enough for me. We'll beg to differ.

Do you prefer Martinu's Field Mass, a rather overlooked precursor? VW's Dona nobis pacem? I still think that no-one had quite thought of mixing the public and the personal in quite the same way as BB.

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

In a sense both these views are correct. The work is magnificent (I attended the first performance at Coventry) but the piece is in some degree rather obvious. Maybe it is simply that Britten's genius fell short of the first rank. But that is no reason for writing off music which speaks eloquently for a view which should always be in our minds, and the minds of later generations.

David said...

Well, there's history for you. And how many thousand copies of the recording sold in the first year?

So, yes, it is obvious in places. But I reckon a large-scale Requiem has to be, even though Britten can always transform a cliche. In my opinion, there's nothing obvious about the Owen settings for baritone and tenor. Isn't the spareness of 'Strange Meeting' akin to Mahler's Abschied (which may be why Shostakovich linked the two works)? Both break my heart.

JVaughan said...


Though I own three of Mr. Terfel's "crossover" discs, and particularly enjoy the Rodgers-and-Hammerstein and Lerner ones, I still wish he was not so much involved with "pop culture" as he is, including costuming and presentation where applicable, given what we agree is his considerable artistry. Unless he has relapsed again, it would appear that he has overcome the vocal problems through which he seemed to be going when he participated in the fairly-recent Halle _Gerontius_, and hope he continues to advance from strength to strength, and with worthy music, including some good show tunes if he still wishes to sing them, though hopefully nothing more overtly-commercial than that. I still would like to hear what he might do with Sachs, though is he still too young for that role?

I am becoming more used to Sir Peter's voice of late, but, whether or not I am, one cannot help but agree about how well he sings that "dona nobis pacem!" I heard it again last evening since it has become my practice to play that recording on that day, though I did not get to Arlington Cemetery yesterday, partly due to rain, more of which we are due to have today and tomorrow. I heard most of that _Building_-_A_-_Library_ feature this past Saturday, and hope to be back this coming Saturday for Ireland's _Piano_ _Concerto_, though thus far only know of two recordings, both with the same pianist and one conducted by the late Maestro Hickox if I am not mistaken. I am further enjoying some of his songs on two new recordings, one of which I mentioned yesterday in another thread.

J. V.

p.s. A Church organist I used to know in this area also regarded the _War_ _Requiem_ as _THE_ great choral work of the 20th Century. Since you mentioned VW's _Dona_ _Nobiss_ _Pacem_ above, do you also like it? I do. It, like the later _Hodie_, is certainly an anthology of his various styles, though we do not get anything as early as the "Dirge For Two Veterans" in that later work.
Early in style that is.

Gavin Plumley said...

What an interesting exchange on here. I should perhaps go back to the recording and listen again, looking beyond the O-level-type links between the old and new. It just feels municipal as a piece (the way in the which the premiere was mounted) rather than a genuine response to that situation. Give me the deeply flawed but thrilling Mask of Time...

David said...

Well, to consider The Mask of Time without guffawing, I'd have to go back and listen to THAT properly. I take it you wouldn't go so far as to defend New Year, which really does seem to have passed into well deserved obscurity?

Well, I don't want to set up a Tippett v Britten argument when both come at their compositions from completely different angles, but there isn't a single Tippett work I return to for pleasure. My problem, I guess. It might be the Beethoven v Mozart thing all over again (no prizes for guessing who's who there).

David Damant said...

David Damant writes

PS As we emerged from the first performance ( 30 May 1962) I heard several conversations saying that it would not be performed very often - " the resources required, you know: two choirs etc "

Pears was English and Fischer-Dieskau was German and Vishnevskaya was Russian - but she was prevented from attending by the Party, indeed by Furtseva in person. This was even after a letter ( 14 December 1961) from Britten - " This Requiem is perhaps the most important work that I have yet written". Many said that they could not understand the decision, but the Party aimed to rule and one of the techniques was to take decisions based on the insistance of their rule, to keep any opposition unbalanced, even afraid, a technique perfected by Stalin

JVaughan said...

So what is particularly anti-Soviet about the _War_ _Requiem_? To be sure, there is an enemy German baritone in it, but, of course, the Soviets had East Germany by then. So how is it that she was not granted permission to sing in the Coventry premiere, but _WAS_ allowed to do the recording sessions?

J. V.

Howard Lane said...

Wow David I'm surprised that you have a problem with Tippett, although I too have a problem with his lyric writing which can be highly embarassing, and A Child of Our Time is pretty turgid apart from the sublime spirituals.

But the piano concerto is phenomenal and I adore the string writing of the double concerto and the Corelli Fantasia as much as Vaughan Williams - well almost.

As you know I am completely unschooled so all music is music to me, and I couldn't choose between Beethoven and Mozart any more than between Miles Davis and Benny Goodman, but I think Tippett is along around the Beethoven area, and I do at least know that Britten has a fair few classic operas under his belt, as did WAM.

Tippett's operatic and vocal efforts are clearly less successful than his orchestral and chamber music, and I feel he tried too hard to include trendy and rock music elements too glibly, which others later had more success in, such as Reich and James Macmillan.

But - there is a beautiful performance I have of Tippett's 3rd Symphony with Heather Harper in the vocal part, and the triple concerto and piano sonatas are also favourites of mine. I certainly think his neo-classical elements can be mentioned in the same breath as - well you know the usual suspects better than anyone.

David said...

You put it beautifully, Howard, and if I were a bit more considered, I might have tried to argue my blind spot more clearly.

I have a special allergy to A Child of Our Time, yet the piano sonatas and string quartets are among those many works I've vowed to spend some time getting to know, and never have.

So once my current Faure infatuation has been sated, maybe I'll do that.

Pierre said...

I just wanted to add my pennyworth about Britten allegedly 'not being able to face the consequences of his conscientious objection'. Assuming Gavin Plumley knows his facts, I really don't know what he means: Britten after all returned to England when the war was still on - making a perilous voyage across the Atlantic in the process - and faced the tribunal about his conscientious objection (the upshot being that he didn't have to do military service so long as he toured the country giving concerts). Further, after the war, he toured with Yehudi Menuhin including a performance at (if I remember rightly) Belsen. That seems to me quite a facing up to man's inhumanity to man.