Memorable concert at Coventry cathedral

Britten’s War Requiem, Coventry Cathedral, May 30.

FIFTY years to the day since the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) returned for a commemorative performance of one of the greatest 20th century works – Britten’s War Requiem.

Internationally, the event was considered so important that the television production was fed to 17 countries, including Japan. Despite a grant from Arts Council England, the 17 did not include the UK.

Taking Wilfrid Owen’s First World War poems, Britten interweaves these parable texts with the Latin words of the Requiem Mass. The message of peace and reconciliation is no less relevant today than it was in 1962 as the War Requiem looks death in the face and presents a terrifying vision of implacable holiness.

For this performance, the audience gazed through huge glass window of the west end at the ruins of the old Cathedral. With their backs to this window the CBSO Chorus, with soprano Erin Wall in their midst, as Britten requested, could not fail to respond to the passionate and intense conducting of Andris Nelsons. Male soloists too gave of their very best. Bass-baritone, Hanno Müller-Brachmann sang confidently; tenor, Mark Padmore, must be the finest tenor in the UK.

CBSO, now rated the best orchestra in the UK, responded to Nelsons’ request to produce the severity and pathos he wanted to the Dies Irae and delivered an exhilarating Libera Me – with Erin Wall fighting hard not to be overwhelmed. CBSO Youth Chorus, all girls singing with a boyish twang as Britten would have wanted, sang from the altar end; somehow this new layout, delivered improved acoustics for this memorable event.

Clive Peacock