My subject is War, and the Pity of War. At the head of the score, Benjamin Britten quotes this line from the World War I poet, Wilfred Owen. A lifelong pacifist, Britten’s masterstroke was to intersperse Owen’s poetry with the Latin text of the Requiem Mass.
Britten wanted this work to reach a mass audience. He created music which is deliberately approachable. The chorus sings the Latin text and their music calls for a wide range of colour. Saffron Walden Choral Society and Harlow Chorus combined to produce a vibrant, compelling sound. They were at their best in the faster, dramatic music. A greater awareness of the text would have brought more rhythmic impetus and clarity to some of the slower, quieter passages.
Erica Eloff (soprano) was impressively powerful and controlled. Robin Tritschler (tenor) was plangent and expressive, if rather cool and detached. Peter Harvey (baritone) was particularly effective in the final duet (a setting of Owen’s Strange Meeting.) The boy choristers of Jesus College, Cambridge, created exactly the right atmosphere in their plainsong-like lines. The Chameleon Arts Orchestra provided confident support, sometimes a little over-enthusiastically.
This performance was conceived, inspired and supported by Roger Williamson (1947-2015), who sang with both choirs and loved this work. There was much to admire in this ambitious, impressive performance. All credit to the conductors, Janet Wheeler, Sarah Tenant-Flowers and Richard Pinel. The cumulative effect was both stirring and moving.