Benjamin Britten

War Requiem: 3LP


Release date: 3 November, 2023

Vinyl Edition: LPs cut to lacquer at half-speed* by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios, and pressed on 180gm vinyl; with poly-lined inner sleeves.

November 1940, in an act of wartime aggression, Coventry Cathedral was raised to the ground and the city decimated.  In 1962 attention turned again to war-torn Coventry where in the city's newly built cathedral, Britten’s War Requiem received its symbolic world premiere, commissioned for the its reconsecration. In his deeply moving score, Britten set the entire text of the Latin Requiem Mass and interpolated nine of Wilfred Owen’s harrowing poems from the trenches. Britten organised the performers into three distinct but overlapping groups: full orchestra, chorus and soprano soloist for the Latin texts; a chamber ensemble with tenor and baritone soloists for Owen’s verses; and a distant boys’ choir; His choices for the three soloists were laden with deep meaning: the British tenor Peter Pears; the German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; and the Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (who was ultimately barred by the Soviet regime from traveling to England for the premiere, and was replaced at less than two weeks’ notice by Heather Harper) to represent reconciliation between the three front-line casualties of 20th-century European conflict. Notwithstanding a few bumps, the impact of the performance spread immediately and critical reaction created momentum for a commercial recording.

Recorded between January 3 and 10, 1963, in London’s Kingsway Hall by Decca’s ‘dream team’ of producer John Culshaw and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson, Britten’s ideals were achieved when the provincial forces in Coventry were replaced by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Bach Choir (trained by David Willcocks), and the boys of Highgate School.  The Melos Ensemble returned, and one year after the premiere, the triumvirate of soloists, Britten had written The War Requiem for were united, with Britten conducting the performance.

Unbeknownst to the composer, the soloists and the orchestra, Culshaw kept the microphones open and the tapes running in both the hall and the control room during rehearsals. On the occasion of Britten’s fiftieth birthday, he was given a presentation LP of rehearsal excerpts with its own label and catalogue number, BB50.  Undoubtedly offered with the best of intentions, the gift was received with less than the positive response intended, owing to Britten’s deep sense of privacy and his particular sensitivities around this work especially. It wasn’t until fifty years later, it was deemed reason to put on one side Britten’s prohibition and to assess the tape as a contribution to our knowledge of him as a performer and interpreter of his own music and to our understanding of the War Requiem itself. On the one hand, it affords a glimpse into how Britten worked (as composer/conductor), and on the other, perhaps of more import, is how fundamental to the original concept and interpretation of the work was the intent to disturb, discomfort, confront and shock its audiences out of a passive acceptance of the annihilation of war. The rehearsals are presented here on LP for the first time since the sole pressing gifted by Decca to Britten on his 50th birthday in November 1963.

* Mastering to lacquer at half-speed has the advantage of halving the high-frequency energy passing through the cutterhead, producing a cleaner and more precise top-end of the audio spectrum due to a more accurately etched groove. The cleaner top-end results in a more detailed and stable stereo image and lifelike soundstage.

War Requiem, op. 66

Galina Vishnevskaya soprano
Peter Pears tenor
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau baritone

The Bach Choir & London Symphony Chorus
Chorus master: David Willcocks
Highgate School Choir
Director: Edward Chapman
Simon Preston organ

Melos Ensemble
London Symphony Orchestra


LP 1 & 2
I. Requiem aeternam

1. a. Requiem aeternam Chorus
2. b. What Passing Bells for These who die as Cattle? Tenor
II. Dies irae
3. a. Dies irae Chorus
4. b. Bugles Sang, Saddening the Evening Air Baritone
5. c. Liber Scriptus Soprano
6. d. Out there, We've Walked quite Friendly up to Death Tenor & Baritone
7. e. Recordare Jesu pie Chorus
8. f. Be Slowly Lifted Up Baritone
9. g. Dies irae Chorus
10. h. Lacrimosa dies illa Soprano & Chorus
11. i. Move Him into the Sun Tenor
III. Offertorium
12. a. Domine Jesu Christe
13. b. So Abram Rose, and Clave the Wood
IV. Sanctus
14. a. Sanctus Soprano & Chorus
15. b. After the Blast of Lightning from the East Baritone
V. Agnus Dei
16. One ever Hangs Where Shelled Roads Part Tenor & chorus
VI. Libera me
17. a. Libera me, Domine Chorus
18. b. It Seemed that out of Battle I Escaped Tenor
19. c. Let Us Sleep Now ... In Paradisum Baritone, Tenor, Boys, Soprano & Chorus

Rehearsing War Requiem* 

These recordings were made using the courtesy microphone by the conductor’s Podium and a microphone in the producer’s control room. Hence the sound is mono.
1. Requiem aeternam Rehearsal                                                      
2. Dies irae Rehearsal of the opening section                                   
3. Dies irae Discussion in the control room between Britten and Galina Vishnevskaya (via her interpreter), then between John Culshaw and Galina Vishnevskaya
4. Dies irae Rehearsal of end of movement                                      
5. Offertorium Rehearsal                                                                  
6. Sanctus Rehearsal                                                                        
7. Sanctus Discussion in the control room between Britten and Galina Vishnevskaya (via her interpreter)
8. Agnus Dei Discussion in the control room between Britten, Peter Pears and John Culshaw
9. Libera me Discussion in the control room between Britten and John Culshaw     
10. Libera me Rehearsal                                                                    
11. Libera me Rehearsal of closing page   
12. Closing remarks                                         

Vinyl Box Set