Britten - War Requiem

La Monnaie – Bozar, Brussels, Sunday November 3 2013

Conductor: Ludovic Morlot. Soprano: Sabina Cvilak. Tenor: Mark Padmore. Baritone: Dietrich Henschel. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie. Flemish Radio Chorus. Vocaal Ensemble Reflection. La Monnaie Children’s Chorus.

Wilfred Owen
It's probably simplistic of me (and yet another sign of my lack of proper musical education) to imagine, when a composer decides to score for both full and chamber orchestra, that he expects the small band to make less noise than the big one. The main shortcoming of this performance of Britten's wonderful War Requiem was, to me, lack of dynamic variety. It was mostly loud to very loud, with Ludovic Morlot apparently making little effort to coax some more subtly nuanced playing from La Monnaie's players (or to cue his soloists' entries properly). As a result, tenor and baritone often seemed forced to bawl their parts and the best bits were either those that Britten undoubtedly intended to be loud - the outburts of the Dies Irae, the Hosanna, the Libera Me once it picks up steam... - or those where the scoring is at its most minimalist.

It was in the latter moments that Mark Padmore was able to sing with admirable masculine delicacy and tenderness and Dietrich Henschel, though his voice sometimes shows signs of wear, with his customary combination of elegance and dramatic conviction. Sabina Cvilak, billed on the web as a lyric soprano, was perhaps a bit "short" for this part, in volume and range (her topmost notes were sort of "snatched" at) though it appears she has sung it before. She seemed rather distant from the proceedings. Perhaps she had been bussed in at the last minute. Olga Guryakova's photo was still on the TV screens in the Bozar foyer, so Sabina Cvilak's appearance with the other solists came as a surprise and, I must say (no fault of hers of course) a disappointment. This concert was in partnership with Amnesty International and even I could tell that the little speech in Flemish beforehand included something about human rights in Russia under Vladimir Putin. I wonder if that's why Guryakova wasn't there?

I repeat myself in saying that La Monnaie's orchestra is not the VPO, but I think they are capable of more sensitive playing. I'm told Ludovic Morlot is a rising star. After his rather flat Clemenza and now this, I'll continue to wait and see. The massed choruses were excellent. So was the children's choir, singing with distinct clarity through open doors from the corridor outside.

I was glad, of course, to hear the piece live again after more than 30 years (unless I've forgotten something). I just wish they hadn't bashed their way through it so. My neighbours, not familiar with the work, loved it, which is the main thing, really.

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