BRITTEN:  War Requiem, Op. 66
Stefania Woytowicz, soprano; Peter Pears, tenor; Hans Wilbrink, baritone; Wandsworth School Boys' Choir; Melos Ensemble; New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Carlo Maria Giulini, cond.

BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4046  (F) (ADD) TT: 79:11

Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, written on a commission to celebrate the consecration of Basil Spencer's new Coventry Cathedral that replaced the one destroyed in the Second World War, had its premiere there May 30 and June 1, 1962. Britten conducted the chamber ensemble with Meredith Davies as overall conductor. The luminous trio of singers: tenor Peter Pears, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with various choruses and the London Symphony Orchestra. Early the following year, Decca made their famous recording with the original performers, which hasn't been out of the catalog since and remains the preferred recording of the work. 

War Requiem juxtaposes the Latin Requiem Mass, sung by the soprano soloist, the main chorus and the boys' choir, with settings of World War I poet Wilfred Owen, sung by tenor and baritone soloists with chamber orchestra. The anti-war message of War Requiem, reflecting the composer's pacifist feelings, was well-received and within a few years there were performances in Amsterdam, Vienna and other major music centers. As Britten declined major conducting responsibilities at the premiere, Coventry Festival authorities had to decide who would take this over. Carlo Maria Giulini was one of two conductors under consideration; Meredith Davies was chosen.  Giulini conducted the work for the first time at the 1968 Edinburgh Festival  with the same soloists as in the premiere, along with the Philharmonia Orchestra with the Melos Ensemble directed by the composer. 

 The performance heard on this CD was given seven months later. It was a highly emotional occasion, with some minor flaws as one would expect during a live concert. CD notes talk about the "notoriously difficult acoustics of  Royal Albert Hall," and mention improper recording balances, but it sounds just fine to me. The spacious effect has been wonderfully captured, with a splendid sense of atmosphere and presence  The entire work fits onto a single CD, and complete text is provided.  An outstanding historic reissue—indeed, a "BBC Legend."  This surely is a more fitting tribute to Giulini, than the BBC Legends issue (4023) of Tchaikovsky's PathÈtique and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, mono recordings made about 8 years earlier that hardly present the distinguished conductor at his best.

R.E.B.(Dec. 2000)