Reinbert de Leeuw / Jaap van Zweden / Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Britten: War Requiem

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This version of Britten's War Requiem comes from a live 2010 performance in Utrecht led by Jaap van Zweden and Reinbert de Leeuw, and was released in 2012, the 50th anniversary of the work's premiere. The conductors are given equal billing, but van Zweden's name comes first, so apparently he leads the large orchestra and de Leeuw leads the chamber orchestra. The performance is notable for its raw intensity and almost savage depths, which are made even starker in contrast to the moments of stillness and resignation. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Choir, and Netherlands Children's Choir have the expressive range and discipline to convey the music's extremes, from fury to serenity, and to capture its nuanced, subtle ironies. The soloists, soprano Evelina Dobraceva, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, and baritone Mark Stone, sing with passion and incisiveness; the men's solos, which are in English, are particularly gripping.

The sound quality of Challenge Classics' hybrid SACD is exemplary. It's immaculate, which is rare for live recordings; the balance, always a challenge in this complex work, with its shifts between very large and very small ensembles, is excellent; and the ambience is natural and immediate. There are a number of very fine recordings of the Requiem, but the powerful emotional range and consistently superlative musicality of the performances, as well as the top-notch sound quality, put this version in the running with best of them.

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