Benjamin Britten's War Requiem - The Legendary 1962 Coventry Cathedral First Performance
On November 14, 1940 the town of Coventry, England went through a harrowing night of bombing by the Luftwaffe and emerged from shelters to find a city nearly obliterated and forever transformed. At the center was the five hundred year old medieval cathedral in ruins. Benjamin Britten (a pacifist) was asked to write a work for Coventry's new cathedral to be consecrated in 1962. The première performance of the War Requiem was recorded live in Coventry Cathedral in May of 1962.
As you can hear on Testament's new release, the performance is shattering, the sound, surprisingly clear and dynamic. The deep emotion of Wilfred Owen's poetry is portrayed with a power and sincerity that has rarely – if ever – been matched in modern recordings. For the opening performance and to demonstrate unity, it was intended that the soloists should be from three nations involved in the war: from Russia, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, England's Peter Pears and from Germany Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. However, in an ironic twist, the USSR did not permit Vishnevskaya to travel to Coventry for the event. With only ten days' notice, Heather Harper stepped in and performed the soprano role brilliantly. "The first performance created an atmosphere of such intensity that by the end I was completely undone; I did not know where to hide my face. Dead friends and past suffering arose in my mind," Fischer- Dieskau wrote in his autobiography of the War Requiem premiere. This recording is truly not one to be missed.