Nelsons Conducts Britten’s War Requiem



  • Thumbnail

Tuesday 28 May 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Erin Wall  soprano

Mark Padmore  tenor

Hanno Müller-Brachmann  baritone

CBSO Chorus  

CBSO Youth Chorus   CBSO Children’s Chorus  

Britten: War Requiem 88′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

“My subject is War, and the pity of War.” Benjamin Britten composed his War   Requiem for the new Coventry Cathedral, but it’s become one of the defining   achievements of modern music, a timeless and profoundly moving exploration of   man’s inhumanity to man. The CBSO gave its world premiere: this music is in   our blood, and every performance is special to us. Be there as Andris Nelsons   and an international team of soloists bring this deeply personal masterpiece   to Symphony Hall before taking the work on tour.

Unfortunately, Kristine Opolais has withdrawn from the War Requiem performances. This is due to physical changes in her voice over the last months, following the birth of her first baby, which have affected her work with this repertoire.

We are grateful to Erin Wall for agreeing to take her place at short notice.

Read all about the 50th anniversary performance of the War Requiem in Coventry   Cathedral in May 2012 here.

Explore Birmingham’s celebrations of Britten’s centenary here.



Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “In fact the clarity of sight and sound was all to the good. They showed up the special virtues of the conductor, Andris Nelsons, who refused to approach the work with the reverence it sometimes receives from British conductors. He just wanted to make it as thrilling and immediate as possible.

The result was that passages which can sound like a somewhat dim echo of earlier Britten came up fresh and new. The word “revelatory” is overused in concert reviews, but here it’s exactly right. There were whole passages which I felt I was hearing for the first time, like the “Recordare” chorus, and the beautiful semi-chorus in the “Liber Scriptus”, touched off by the pearly innocence of soprano Erin Wall (and how touching she was in the “Lacrimosa”, cushioned by the voices of the CBSO chorus.) The CBSO Youth Chorus, coming from way up above in the gallery, were moving just because they were so crystal clear.”     … 5 out of 5 stars



Review by Roger Jones, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “The final section, Libera me, was a tremendous climax, both dramatically and emotionally. In the Tremens factus choirs and orchestra (especially the brass and percussion) burst into a horrific cacophany of sound which as good as plunged the audience into the middle of a battle. This was Verdi – but far more terrifying. Then came one of Wilfred Owen’s most striking and hatrrowing poems, Strange Meeting, in which the poet meets in death the man he has killed. It was sung with dignity and sincerity by Padmore followed by Müller-Brachmann who effortlessly imparted meaning to every word and note. The final Let us sleep now, repeated by the soloists, was enveloped in the embrace of In paradisum from the Youth Choir and eventually by the whole chorus.

Simon Halsey insists the CBSO Chorus is the best choir in the world, and although there must be other contenders for the title, they certainly turned in an excellent performance this evening – as did the CBSO and Andris Nelsons who is now confirmed as one of the brightest stars in the musical firmament. But I single out for particular praise the two male soloists. I have always been impressed by Mark Padmore’s musical sensitivity but his feeling for the words he sings with such clarity and meaning. But now he has a rival: Hanno Müller-Brachmann!”     …



Blog Post by The Plashing Vole:

Click here for full post

…     “As to the CBSO’s performance – they and the conductor Andris Nelsons proved yet again why they’re one of the best ensembles in the world at the moment. This difficult, complex music wasn’t just performed technically well: the dynamics and the emotional effects were perfect. The children’s choir was disturbing and ethereal and the largely amateur CBSO Chorus wrung every ounce of suffering and desolation from their parts. For me, the test of a good choir isn’t power and volume: it’s the ability to maintain beauty, diction and control in the quietest passages. The Requiem demanded total control and the Chorus demonstrated once again just how amazing they are.

At the end of the 88 minutes, performed without an interval (thankfully), the audience was stunned into silence. I’ve never heard such a long, profound silence after the baton went down. I was moved to tears, both by the subject matter and the performance and I think others were too. Nelsons stood there, slumped, exhausted and spent, until finally he exchanged weary, emotional hugs with the singers – they’d been through the emotional wringer and the event transcended the usual very British reserve seen on platforms.”     …



Blog Post by Rodney Bashford, WarRequiem.Blogspot:

Click here for full post

...     “Does the powerful impact of War Requiem reduce with so much repetition?

Not from the performer’s perspective and, judging by the audience reaction last night, not for those who may have encountered it before or those, perhaps,  coming to it for the first time. The atmosphere was ‘electric’, the performance (like Coventry Cathedral) equally highly charged and the stunned silence at the end almost as long as that in Coventry. Let’s see what Europe now make of it!

These are some of the comments from Tuesday night’s performance:
Chorus Member
The audience don’t see Andris Nelsons’ entreating eyes, now anguished, now seraphic; the semaphoring mouth; the fluttering, eloquent hands as he dispenses with the baton; the sheer depth of involvement in communicating his vision.
The sheer emotional response of all concerned, tears even in the eyes of hard-boiled back-desk violins, and even more so from the vocal soloists. Mark Padmore, exuded both anger at the crass futility of war, and overwhelming guilt and regret as he and the German “enemy” he killed are reconciled in eternal sleep.
The CBSO and CBSO Chorus were wonderful last night. Truly breathtaking and wonderfully conducted by Nelsons (as usual)!”     …
Review by Andrew H King, BachTrack:
Click here for full review
…     “Conductor Andris Nelsons commanded the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, CBSO Chorus and Youth Chorus, as well as three excellent soloists, in one of those performances that linger in the memory for days after the final notes are heard. The steady, ominous opening provided an excellent opportunity for the orchestra to display the tightness of ensemble, Britten’s unforgiving use of rhythm from the off being a premonition that the worst is yet to come. The chorus also immediately matched the orchestral skill, each brief, disintegrating phrase possessing an accurate and intense level of attention to detail – Britten indicates masses of colour throughout the work and each instruction was rigorously observed. The initial entrance of the Youth Chorus, accompanied by chamber organ high up in the gallery and representing something ethereally beautiful, further cemented the performance’s high standards with excellent diction and precise intonation.”     …

50th Anniversary Performance: Britten’s War Requiem

Wednesday 30 May 2012 at 7.30pm

Coventry Cathedral

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Erin Wall soprano
Mark Padmore tenor
Hanno Müller-Brachmann baritone
CBSO Chorus & Youth Chorus

Britten: War Requiem 77′ Listen on Spotify

Coventry Cathedral 2012 Jubilee Fifty years ago today in Coventry Cathedral, the CBSO made world history. Benjamin Britten composed his War Requiem to celebrate the consecration of the new Cathedral, but it’s become one of the defining masterpieces of the twentieth century: a devastating meditation on the pity of war that’s every bit as relevant today. On the fiftieth anniversary of that legendary premiere, we return to Coventry as part of the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. This promises to be one of the artistic highlights of 2012.

Information for audiences: Due to the live broadcasting, streaming and televising of this concert, please note that the doors will close at 7.25pm to enable a prompt start. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to admit latecomers. Please therefore ensure you allow plenty of time; the doors will open at 6.30pm. Information about parking in Coventry can be found here.

Please note Kristine Opolais has withdrawn from this concert as she is indisposed. We are grateful to Erin Wall who has agreed to take her place at short notice.

Find out what our musicians love about this music – watch music director Andris Nelsons and CBSO double bass section leader John Tattersdill discussing Britten’s War Requiem.

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

Click here to watch online at – until end of October

Click here to listen again on BBC Radio 3 – until 6th June 2012

Article by Patsy Fuller, Coventry Telegraph:

Click here for full article

…     “Nelsons is only too aware of the importance of the work and its significance for Coventry and the rest of the world. “It speaks to everyone,” he says.

He has never conducted the work before but says he recognises the “great privilege” which the CBSO enjoys through its association with it.”     …

Article by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full article

“Fifty Years and Still Spellbound by Britten’s War Requiem”     …

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “The CBSO played superbly. Nelsons can inspire them to play with shattering power when appropriate but they’re equally adept when finesse is required. They were on top form tonight. At the first performance Britten imported a specialist chamber group, the Melos Ensemble, to accompany the soloists. Did he not trust the CBSO? No need for any guests this time: the chamber group consisted of CBSO principals who acquitted themselves marvellously, providing acute and sensitive support for the two male singers.”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Nelsons’ performance suggested he knew well enough where the work’s shortcomings are to be found. He gave his tenor and baritone soloists Mark Padmore (at his best) and Hanno Müller-Brachmann (occasionally a bit under-characterised) a very free expressive rein in the Wilfred Owen settings, and concentrated his attentions on giving point and purpose to the requiem mass sections. The CBSO’s own Chorus and Youth Chorus were on their most responsive form, and soprano soloist Erin Wall, stationed as usual among them, proved incisive.”     …

Review by Rian Evans, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “From the very outset, with the words “Requiem aeternam” sung in hushed whispers and the characteristic bell-tolls gently reverberating, the response from the angelic voices of CBSO Youth Chorus singing in the chancel created rather an extraordinary atmosphere, reverent yet dynamic. Like Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, its influence Britten acknowledged, War Requiem is sometimes quite operatic: it was this quality of theatricality – bringing into dramatic focus some of the musical effects, notably the brass and percussion writing with which Britten spelled out the battery of war – that emerged very powerfully in the ‘Dies Irae’, reinforcing the pacifist message at the heart of the work. Erin Wall (replacing Kristīne Opolais, Nelsons’s wife) sang the soprano role which for Britten represented the ‘healing angel’ and which he wrote especially for Galina Vishnevskaya (taken by Heather Harper in the first performance). Standing between chorus and orchestra, Wall’s silvery tone succeeded admirably in carrying over that body of sound and in the ‘Lacrimosa’ she conveyed eloquently all the anguish of loss.”     …

Review by Jeremy Pound, Classical-Music:

Click here for full review

…      “But back to that backdrop. Time and again, the pathos of Owen’s words from World War One was given added force simply by the sight of those cathedral ruins, the result of another global conflict just 22 years later. Of around 1000 buildings in Coventry city centre, just 31 were left in touch. It was a concert to move like no other.

Am I being melodramatic? Well, judge for yourself. The 50th anniversary concert was broadcast live in Europe and will be available on an Arthaus DVD later this year. If they have captured just a fraction of the impact of the occasion, I’d recommend it without hesitation.”

Review by Katherine Dixson, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…     “How exquisite when Mark Padmore breathed life into ‘What passing bells for those who die as cattle?’ The poems were shared with Hanno Müller-Brachmann, previously a pupil of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the baritone soloist at the première, who sadly passed away earlier in May. Their individual singing, with eyes as well as voice, and their rapport when they duetted, especially in ‘Strange Meeting’ – the imagined post-death mutual recognition of two enemy soldiers – was immensely moving.”     …

Article,  BBC Local News:

Click here for full article

…     “Adrian Spillett, the principal percussionist for the CBSO, who performed on the anniversary, said the atmosphere was no less charged 50 years on.

“With the silence, you could hear a pin drop – the audience seemed to be spellbound throughout.”


Blog posts by David Barber:

Click here and here for full posts

…     “For me, the silence at the end of the performance, lasting well over a minute, will remain in my heart for a very long time.

Music’s power to communicate indescribable feelings and experiences was never more apparent.”     …

Blog post by James Ridgeway:

Click here for full post

…     “Being in the CBSO Chorus gives you opportunities that others would kill for and having the opportunity to take part in the 50th anniversary performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in the place that it was written for, was something which I did not take for granted.”     …

Review by Richard Fairman, FT:

Click here for full review

…     “A commemorative performance does justice to one of the great works of the 20th century”     …

Review by Fiona Maddocks, Observer:

Click here for full review

…     “Last Wednesday the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which gave that first performance in 1962, returned to Coventry with the CBSO Chorus and Youth Chorus and fine soloists: soprano Erin Wall, tenor Mark Padmore and bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann. The blistering performance, to a capacity audience, was led by the CBSO’s charismatic Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons – who, from a Soviet bloc country, would presumably have suffered the same fate as Vishnevskaya minus histrionics. It’s a sobering reminder of the bleak oppression of musicians in those cold war years and how, in this respect anyway, life has improved.

The light-filled building was used to full effect.”


@TheCBSO Storify coverage and tweets – click here


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Any work which can draw a response such as we witnessed from hardened professional orchestral players, a chorus so dedicated to delivering clarity of text to the utmost possible, and a conductor whose magic hands elicited so much pointing of diction, even in these circumstances, and drama both universal and intimate, cannot easily be dismissed — as the huge contemplative silence at the end confirmed.”      *****