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Britten: War Requiem

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Barnes & Noble - Andrew Farach-Colton
This recording won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance in 2000 -- a real surprise, given that there is not a single big name here. The accolade was completely deserved, however, even though at the time of the award ceremony, the discs -- issued by the Washington Chorus itself -- were almost impossible to find. Now, thankfully, Naxos has taken up distribution of the two-CD set, allowing this stunning live performance, direcred by Robert Shafer, to gain the much wider circulation it deserves. Top billing goes to the chorus, who give an intense and incisive reading of Britten's challenging score. Listen to the dark, biting sound of the Dies Irae -- a quality...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Andrew Farach-Colton
This recording won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance in 2000 -- a real surprise, given that there is not a single big name here. The accolade was completely deserved, however, even though at the time of the award ceremony, the discs -- issued by the Washington Chorus itself -- were almost impossible to find. Now, thankfully, Naxos has taken up distribution of the two-CD set, allowing this stunning live performance, direcred by Robert Shafer, to gain the much wider circulation it deserves. Top billing goes to the chorus, who give an intense and incisive reading of Britten's challenging score. Listen to the dark, biting sound of the Dies Irae -- a quality they manage to convey despite a rather distant recording perspective that somewhat blunts the sonic impact. The soloists are uniformly excellent: Richard Clement has just the right voice for his role, conveying equal parts innocence, indignation, and supplication. Soprano Christine Goerke has the power to cut through the huge sound of the chorus and orchestra without sounding shrill, and Richard Stilwell's warm baritone has impressive narrative dexterity. The orchestra offers solid support, painting with an austere palette of white, gray, and black that sets the colorful vocal writing in stark relief. Britten's own 1963 recording is a remarkable, priceless document -- despite its vocal flaws -- and it has even more sonic impact than this newcomer. But any enthusiast of Britten's music, or anyone who wants a new perspective on one of the most moving works in the choral repertory, should grab this recording while it's still readily available.
All Music Guide - Blair Sanderson
Comparisons between a landmark first recording and those that follow it may be inevitable, but they need not be invidious. Since Benjamin Britten's classic rendition of his "War Requiem, Op. 66," set an incredibly high standard, it seems unlikely that others could match it. Yet this remarkably controlled but powerful and ultimately moving performance by the Washington Chorus and Orchestra, the Shenandoah Conservatory Choir, and the Maryland Boy Choir, conducted by Robert Shafer, is almost on the mark. Shafer no doubt has studied Britten's performance closely and has generally followed it in pacing and in emphasizing particular details in the orchestration; yet everything here is fluid and natural, and this version shows no signs of slavish imitation. The vocal soloists are all topnotch and sing without affectation; soprano Christine Goerke is outstanding in her ethereal solos with the chorus. Bearing in mind that this live 1995 recording has a few flaws -- extraneous audience noises here and there, and slightly variable sound dimensions from different microphone positions -- it is still remarkably balanced and well-recorded, thanks to National Public Radio's meticulous engineering. Since Britten's 1963 recording is available on London, it remains the first choice; but this fine recording compares favorably, and definitely deserves a hearing.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 11/21/2000
  • Label: Naxos
  • UPC: 611401001024
  • Catalog Number: 3898

Album Credits

Performance Credits
Robert Shafer Primary Artist
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