Classical review: RSNO: Britten’s War Requiem, Edinburgh

The RSNO gave a thoroughly chilling edge to Britten's often gaunt score. Picture: TSPL
The RSNO gave a thoroughly chilling edge to Britten's often gaunt score. Picture: TSPL
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The spatial element in Britten’s War Requiem matters. So does the ability to convincingly utilise that powerful juxtaposition of the visual theatre and the gnawing drama latent in the jarring texts with moulding the multiple choir and orchestra forces into a single, cohesive entity.

RSNO: Britten’s War Requiem - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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There were so many moments last night where the RSNO, the RSNO Chorus and Junior Chorus, under Peter Oundjian’s direction, and in the broad vastness of the Usher Hall, hit the magic button – the piercing engagement of the main chorus at the opening of the Dies Irae; the deliciously hushed evenness of the “Amen” that ends it; the haunting unisons grippingly underpinning the Agnus Dei; the pristine distant charm of the children’s offstage choir; and playing from the RSNO (and its offset chamber orchestra) that gave a thoroughly chilling edge to Britten’s often gaunt score, without discarding the warmth of the work’s reconciliatory spirit.

Equally, though, there were moments where the required intensity just wasn’t maintained. The chorus’s anaemic opening Requiem Aeternam, for instance, sounded as though it came from the head rather than the soul.

Of the soloists, Evelina Dobraceva (replacing Susan Gritton) was a soaring ethereal presence, and notably exquisite in the Lacrimosa. The male duo – lyrical tenor Jeffrey Francis and soft-grained baritone Russel Braun – drew poignant humanity from Owen’s poetry.

Oundjian’s grasp of the big picture was generally powerful, especially that glorious coming together of the forces at the end, though occasionally rocked by a slackening of grip.

Then again, the subliminal beauty of the final bars is still ringing in my ears.