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Seen and Heard Prom Review


Prom 22: Britten, ‘Voluntary on Tallis’ Lamentations’ (world premiere); War Requiem. Timothy Bond (organ) LSO dir. Sir Colin Davis, Susan B. Anthony (soprano) Ian Bostridge (tenor) Simon Keenlyside (baritone) Finchley Children’s Music Group, LSO Chorus, Sunday August 1st 2004 (ME)


Musically excellent, emotionally detached, would be my concise estimate of this performance of Britten’s great work, preceded by a remarkable ‘First,’ the premiere of Britten’s short piece which preceded the Requiem by some 20 years but which seems deeply connected to it, especially in the opening bars which evoke the later work’s ‘Agnus Dei.’ Mahler also comes to mind during the early part of this music, most especially ‘Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgehn’ from Kindertotenlieder - and this is not just a matter of key but of the almost pictorial quality of the mourning which suffuses both works. Timothy Bond, intimate with the piece since its ‘discovery’ was able to play it on ‘The Voice of Jupiter,’ now finally rebuilt and filling the vast hall with its grandiose sound.


Perhaps it is the hall’s vastness which detracts from a performance of the ‘Requiem,’ since I have seldom been less moved by this masterpiece. The undoubted stars of the evening were the members of the LSO chorus: never before have I heard the ‘Dies irae’ so sharply etched, the ‘Pleni sunt’ so reminiscent of thousands of celestial chatterers. Alongside this, the Finchley Children’s Music Group made less impact, their voices perhaps a little too cultivated (in terms of sounding like adults) to pierce the soul as their parts can sometimes do.


Few singers can equal Ian Bostridge when it comes to the singing of Britten, but he seems of late to want to make every work sound hard-edged, almost sardonic, and to underplay the tenderness inherent in the poetry: Owen’s famous statement that ‘the Poetry is in the pity’ seemed less and less relevant to Bostridge’s singing here, with the closing lines of ‘What passing – bells for these who die as cattle?’ lacking the melancholy bittersweet quality which he once gave them, and such lines as ‘Lifting distressful hands as if to bless’ uttered matter-of-factly. ‘Move him into the sun’ was beautifully done but ultimately unmoving, concentrating more on the anger of the final question than its emotional impact.


Susan B. Anthony was a highly dramatic soloist, blending finely with the tenor and chorus in the ‘Lacrimosa’ and, partly owing to her positioning at the front of the stage with the other singers (as opposed to isolated from them in a pulpit or on a dais) she was able to make her contributions shine, even though her voice, at least on this showing, lacks a certain vibrancy of colour.


Perhaps the finest singing came during ‘So Abram rose’ where Bostridge and Keenlyside’s harmony in the lines about the angel was more moving than anything that had gone before. Although he seemed a little stretched by the vocal line at times, Keenlyside was by far the most emotionally involved soloist, not only in the more lyrical sections but most of all in the highly charged moments such as ‘Reach at that arrogance which needs thy harm’ and ‘Nor my titanic tears, the sea, be dried.’


The LSO under Davis provided playing to match the level of commitment elsewhere on stage, with the brass section covering itself in glory. An appropriately solemn silence followed the performance: as Peter Pears said, ‘It isn’t the end, we haven’t escaped, we must still think about it, we are not allowed to end in a peaceful dream.’


Melanie Eskenazi


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