Yoel Levi conducts Britten: War Requiem

יואל לוי

Date

15.11.2019

Friday 14:00

Hall

The Lowy concert hall

Venue

Charles Bronfman Auditorium, Tel Aviv

Venue

Charles Bronfman Auditorium, Tel Aviv

Hall

The Lowy concert hall

Artists

Yoel Levi, conductor 

Tatiana Pavlovskaya, soprano 

Jamez McCorkle, tenor 

Morgan Pearse, baritone 

The Gary Bertini Israeli Choir, directed by Ronen Borshevsky 

The Joshua Tuttnauer Ankor Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance directed by Dafna Ben Yohanan 

Bat Shir Choir of the the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, directed by Tali Weisman 

Concert Program

Britten: War Requiem

Event Info

If there is a work that captures the essence of the terror, shock, desperation and hope that the world experienced in the 20th century, a work that is living testimony to the helpless, unnecessary victims of war, it is Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. This monumental work could be dubbed a “masterpiece”, not only for its musical qualities, but also for the emotion it arouses in listeners, who consider it a horrifying expression of the feelings and frame of mind experienced in the here and now, and whose significance seemingly exceeds the realms of a work of art.

On the title page of the score, Britten quoted the pacifist poet Wilfred Owen, one of the last casualties of the British Army in World War I: “My subject is War and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity… All a poet can do today is warn.” Britten created a contemporary Passion of sorts, a work that combines traditional texts from the Latin Requiem Mass and poems by Owen that deal with the futility of war and its horrendous outcome. It seems that each component of the work has deep symbolism. Written for the inauguration of the renewed Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed during the German bombings of World War II, the texts were written by a poet who also gave his life in the war. The soloists chosen to sing in the premiere were carefully picked by Britten: English tenor Peter Pears, German baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (who was not allowed to leave the USSR for the premiere and was replaced by Heather Harper, but later sang in the “ultimate” recording of the work in 1963, with Britten conducting).

One must remember that the War Requiem is primarily a superb musical work, and one cannot attribute its unprecedented success among performers, critics and audiences around the world merely to the relevance of the subjects with which it dealt. Britten, a skilled opera composer, created here a dramatic musical language, whose music covers a vast expressive range: from the whispers of angels, through grief over the victims, helplessness and rage over the pointlessness of war, to acceptance and yearning for peace and calm following the horrors. Britten’s ability to write wonderful melodies, which freely alternate between modality and tonal expansion; his use of basically traditional harmonic language; the orchestration, which is both functional (supporting the singing) and spectacular; his gift in creating sonorous and textural variety, thus not tiring the listener throughout this extensive work – these qualities have made the War Requiem one of the most successful and popular works of the 20th century.

Britten divided the performing forces on stage into three groups. Owen’s texts are sung by the tenor and baritone, accompanied by a small chamber orchestra, creating an intimate atmosphere, resembling a dramatic, chamber-like discussion. At the premiere of the work, in which Britten himself conducted the small orchestra, he stopped conducting at certain points, thus allowing the performers to listen to each other more attentively and to emphasize the text. Performances with two singers who specialized in the Art Song, such as Pears and Fischer-Dieskau, created a performing tradition and set an especially high standard. The texts from the traditional Requiem are performed by the soprano, a large choir and a vast symphony orchestra. The third group of performers is the children’s choir (situated in many performances on stage), singing a kind of religious, angelic “interpretation”, accompanied by an organ. Britten, a master of setting words to music, wrote a work in which the music leads the text, while also embellishing it. The movements of rage and terror about the Dies irae (“Day of Wrath”) are interspersed with the gruesome text about Isaac’s sacrifice, which, in Owen’s hands, becomes a horrifying allegory, in which even the cry of the Lord to Abraham, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad” does not stop the knife from slaying “half the seed of Europe one by one”. The lamenting Latin text, Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”), is set against Owen’s poem (in an asymmetrical rhythm of five sixteenth notes), in which the tenor sings of a statue of Jesus, situated on a crossroads, whose arm was severed during the war. The heart-wrenching Lacrimosa, sung by the soprano with choir and orchestra, combines with a chilling lament and the cry of a soldier leaning over the body of his dead friend, “Was it for this the clay grew tall?”

The War Requiem clearly follows with the tradition of the Requiem in musical history. Britten’s Dies irae overtly resembles the Dies irae of Verdi’s Requiem, the Lacrimosa shares the lyricism and accompanimental textures of the corresponding movement of Mozart’s Requiem, and the Gregorian qualities of the music sung by the children’s choir in “Seraphim of Heaven” imply that Britten, in his way, wished to suggest that even centuries of Requiems have not managed to prevent the horrors of war that the world has known. In this sense, Owen’s warning and Britten’s music are more relevant to our times than ever.

Price Range

Duration

approx 80 minutes, no intermission

Duration

approx 80 minutes, no intermission

Price range

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