Britten: War Requiem, 1963


Following their acclaimed recordings of Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Paul McCreesh has once again assembled the mass forces of Gabrieli Consort & Players and Wrocaw Phiharmonic Choir to record one of the iconic masterpieces of the twentieth-century oratorio repertoire.
The work reflects Britten’s long-held and committed pacifist beliefs. Composed to mark the consecration of a new Cathedral in Coventry, Britten combines the Latin text of the Missa pro Defunctis with nine poems by the First World War poet Wilfred Owen, which vide a moving (and frequently uncomfortable) commentary on the liturgical text.
This series has already garnered substantial critical claim and a number of prestigious awards, including a Gramophone Award, BBC Music Magazine Award and two Diapason d’Or awards.

What people are saying

“It’s a very well-paced performance, and Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman are excellent soloists, totally engaged with Britten’s combination of the Latin Mass for the Dead and Wilfred Owen’s war poetry. It’s an outstanding recording for the Winged Lion Label from Signum Classics.” BBC Radio 3 CD Review

Susan Gritton
John Mark Ainsley
Christopher Maltman
Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir
Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme
Trebles of The Choir of New College Oxford
Gabrieli Consort & Players
Paul McCreesh

Release date:2nd Sep 2013
Order code:SIGCD340
Barcode: 635212034026

Paul McCreesh brings clarity and some superb solo singing to his version [of Britten’s War Requiem].



‘Recording the War Requiem was a labour of love, and involved some of the hardest days of my life, but it was also one of the most fulfilling experience of my career: says conductor Paul McCreesh. ‘The sense of collective endeavour in the room, when all these singers – professional, amateur, Polish, English, some very young from our Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme – came together with instrumentalists and soloists in Watford Town Hall was special. It was a privilege to stand before them.’ McCreesh knew that the project was a challenge, though: ‘I felt a few raised eyebrows when we announced we were going to do this piece, but I felt passionately that we did have something to say with it, a new perspective on it 50 years on: He also sensed Britten would have approved of his particular mix of forces: ‘I always feel mixing young and old creates great joy and energy.’ McCreesh’s attraction to the piece is not, however, focused on the massed forces but rather the intimate settings of Wilfred Owen which, he says, ‘form the deepest heart of the work; they were my priority. It was wonderful to have soloists with such sensitivity to the power of the words. You never quite know how things are going to work out, so I’m glad that our efforts have been vindicated.’


BBC Music Magazine, May 2014

August 2013
Andrew McGregor: I have here the brand new disc from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrielli Consort and Players that arrives in shops next week. Also, a live concert performance from Prague in 1966 – the work’s Czech premiere conducted by Karel Ancerl for whom Britten was a key part of the contemporary music he performed with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Supraphon has pulled together three previously unreleased Britten recordings from Czech Radio’s archives: A stirring Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra from 1958; the Spring Symphony from 1964 which seems strangely unfamiliar translated into Czech; then two years later the War Requiem – the audience in the Dvorak Hall hearing it live for the first time.
Andrew McGregor: The limitations of that radio mono recording emphasise what an achievement Decca’s stereo recording was, made at least three years earlier with Britten conducting, and for this latest incarnation they’ve broken it out of Decca’s complete Britten edition, superbly re-mastered from the original tapes in full 24 96 digital audio. There’s a new velvety depth to the acoustic, quieter background, more sense of space and sharper focus – you feel you can point to everyone’s precise positions on the sound-stage. It has made one or two more edits obvious, but still, listen to this:
Andrew McGregor: You were expecting Peter Pears weren’t you, but we cross- faded the Britten recording with Paul
McCreesh’s new one with tenor John Mark Ainsley – who really hits the spot for me. What about the recorded sound? Britten’s Decca recording has scrubbed up superbly in this latest re-mastering, uncannily vivid half a century on, but the depth detail and fidelity of McCreesh’s new one is at another level. In the Requiem Aeternam McCreesh makes the bells more telling than Britten’s recording and it’s just so beautiful, the sound has so much space and clarity, I wish it was in surround. Well this is the latest of the Gabrielli Consort and Players collaborations with the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir plus the trebles of The Choir of New College Oxford. The Baritone solo is Christopher Maltman, and they’re joined by a rather special oboist – just listen to Nicholas Daniel’s sound with Maltman in Bugles Sang…
Andrew McGregor: The rich soprano of Susan Gritton, thick with emotion in Paul McCreesh’s new recording of Britten’s War Requiem. For Karel Ancerl live in 1966, is almost as good as Gritton but she has a slight catch in her voice in Lacrimosa.
Andrew McGregor: Nadez?da Kniplova in concert with Karel Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic in Prague in 1966. She’s fully warmed up by the time she starts the Sanctus but sounds a little throaty in the Lacrimosa. Tenor Gerald English doesn’t have the keen focus and intensity of John Mark Ainsley for McCreesh, but there’s a frigidity and vulnerability to English’s singing that’s actually deeply affecting in the context of this concert. I really like the Kuhn Children’s Chorus for Ancerl as well, a little too distant perhaps compared to the two studio performances but they sing with power and surprising passion. I bet you’ve already forgotten the recording quality haven’t you, but just compare it to Paul McCreesh in the Libera Me, whose recording provides one heck of a climax. But by this time, we’re on to a second CD. McCreesh’s performance is just a few minutes too long to be squeezed onto a single disc like the other two so you have to swap after the Dies Ireae. Mind you, if you buy it as a download, it solves the problem. Let’s have all three recordings to take us to the end of the War Requiem. Susan Gritton and McCreesh’s Chorus first; then John Mark Ainsley encountering the soldier he killed (sung first by Christopher Maltman for McCreesh) ; then Karel Ancerl’s baritone John Cameron. Britten’s own classic Decca recording takes us up to the bell and we’ll hear the final chorus from McCreesh and co.
Andrew McGregor: The end of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. That was the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir and the trebles from the Choir of New College Oxford and the Gabrielli Consort and Players conducted by Paul McCreesh. It’s a very well-paced performance, and Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Andrew McGregor: Andrew McGregor: Maltman are excellent soloists, totally engaged with Britten’s combination of the Latin Mass for the Dead and Wilfred Owen’s war poetry. It’s an outstanding recording for the Winged Lion Label from Signum Classics.

BBC Radio 3 CD Review, Andrew McGregor

  1. War Requiem: I Requiem Aeternam – Benjamin Britten – 10.17
  2. War Requiem: II Dies Irae – Benjamin Britten – 27.03
  3. War Requiem: III Offertorium – Benjamin Britten – 9.35
  4. War Requiem: IV Sanctus – Benjamin Britten – 10.19
  5. War Requiem: V Agnus Dei – Benjamin Britten – 3.49
  6. War Requiem: VI Libera Me – Benjamin Britten – 23.02

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