Helmuth Rilling

Britten: War Requiem

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Just because the definitive recording of Britten's War Requiem has already been made by Britten himself is no reason not to keep recording it. For one thing, the work is simply too affecting and too important to ignore. And for another, the work is too deep and too varied to be encompassed by only one recording, even one so superlative and so sympathetic as the composer's own. Thus, one can have in principle no objections to this live 2007 recording led by Helmuth Rilling. After all, the stalwart German conductor is a highly skilled and deeply experienced choral director who clearly knows his way around monumental scores: his recordings of Bach's Passions are proof of that. But though this is a fine performance with many points to recommend it, it is not a great performance. Rilling does an outstanding job of guiding his forces through the work and a more than adequate job of aiming them toward the work's meaning. But one wants more than "more than adequate" in the War Requiem, and in Rilling's hands, the big moments and its intimate moments fail to strike as profoundly as they ought. The soloists are a mixed lot. Tenor James Taylor and baritone Christian Gerhaher have strong and steady voices, but though soprano Annette Dasch has a lovely voice, she tends to get a bit wobbly above the staff. The chorus of the Festivalensemble Stuttgart and the Aurelius Sängerknaben are both excellent and they do wonders with the work's huge choruses. But the orchestra of the Festivalensemble, while colorful, does not have quite enough size and weight to bring off the big climaxes. Hänssler's super audio sound is definitely a plus -- the sheer size of the sound is amazing -- but not all that much of an improvement over Decca's fabulous stereo sound for Britten. In sum, then, those who don't know the War Requiem are directed toward Britten's recording, while those who do might consider Rilling's as a third or fourth choice after Hickox's or Shaw's.

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