A great deal of careful planning has gone into this production. The work calls for a separate boys' choir and chamber orchestra in addition to the main forces, and the need to convey a sense of space has been taken very seriously. Apparently no church in all Scotland was considered large enough, and the recording was finally done in a converted large workshop at the site of the old Harland and Wolff shipyard in Clydebank, only half a mile from our family home when I was a boy. I find the result outstandingly successful. The sense of space and distance must surely have been what Britten was after, and it needs to be played at a high volume setting. This will not blow you out of the room or disturb the neighbours - Britten's Requiem is a much quieter piece in general than not only Verdi's but even Mozart's. Britten takes the text that Verdi took including the Libera me prayer from the graveside service and adds the In paradisum set by Faure although not by Verdi, and intersperses it with poems by Wilfred Owen. Despite the length of the text there is comparatively little repetition of words, and the overall duration of the work is only roughly similar to Verdi's.
For all the traditional text, this is not a traditional Requiem as even Verdi's was although he had little in the way of religious conviction. Owen's poems are the spiritual core of the War Requiem, the liturgical text serving as background. When the poet asks `All death will He annul?' I sense that Britten's answer is `Not likely'. Creation will not rise again to answer to any judge, and what we destroy stays destroyed. The nearest we are given to a pacifist's answer to the unsolved problem is in the lines addressed to the field-gun
Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great gun towering toward heaven, about to curse;
Reach at that arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse;
But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!
Conductor, soloists and the Scottish ensembles cover themselves with distinction from start to finish. Speeds in some of the choral episodes are on the swift side, but that gives me no problem where the choral texts are something akin to a chain of linking recitatives. The soloists are worthy successors to Britten's own, the choral work is admirable and the BBC Scottish Orchestra is a fine band indeed these days. Above all, don't be nervous or hesitant about turning the volume up if you want to get the proper impact from the careful staging of the production.
Naxos - well done again, very well done indeed. There is not a recording of this great work that I know from any source, perhaps not even from Britten himself with Pears and Fischer-Dieskau, that I could recommend ahead of this one.