Last night’s TSO performance of Britten’s War Requiem was a bit of a mixed bag. There were things to like but, overall, I was not greatly moved; which I expect to be by this work, and it seemed like a very long evening for one work of modest length.
Let’s start with the positives.Tatiana Pavlovskaya was as good a soprano soloist as I have heard in this piece. She sang with enough power to be a distinct voice in all but the very densest sections of the music while maintaining an admirable sweetness of tone without the almost customary screechiness. The Toronto Children’s Chorus was excellent. Toby Spence’s diction was top notch with every word clear. There was some really nice playing from the chamber orchestra, especially the strings. The last fifteen minutes from the blood curdling Libera Me to “let us sleep now” had the right balance of terror and lyricism though, even here, there could have been more drama. Where was the frisson at “I am the enemy you killed my friend”?
And therein, I think, lies the problem. There wasn’t enough drama, or rhythmic precision, in the Owen texts. Tenor Toby Spence and baritone Russell Braun sounded just a bit dull. There was no menace in “Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm” and little bounce in “Out there, we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death”. Spence managed to sound lyrical in, say, “One ever hangs” but where was the bitterness later in that poem? The blandness and the rather muddy textures of the orchestra (not helped by the hall of course) made the first hour or so drag on. Were conductor Bramwell Tovey’s tempi turgid? I don’t think so. It was more the failure to bring out the clarity in the orchestral writing and the real meaning of Owen’s texts.
Illustrations by Nicholas Parry.