Oksana Dyka (soprano)
Alexander Timchenko (tenor)
Vladislav Sulimsky (baritone)
The Mariinsky Chorus
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko
St Petersburg TV and Radio Children's Chorus
Artistic Director: Stanislav Gribkov
The Mariinsky Orchestra
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
The War Requiem was written by Benjamin Britten for the inauguration of the new cathedral in Coventry, built next to the ruins of the old St Michael’s Cathedral which was bombed during World War II. The first performance took place on 30 May 1962. By then, the composer had already written a vast number of choral works, both secular and religious, though the War Requiem was to be the greatest of all.
When the Luftwaffe blitzed London and wiped Coventry off the map, Britten was not in the United Kingdom (from April 1939 to April 1942 he lived in the USA). The truth of the war came into his work with the poetry of Wilfred Owen – “a convinced pacifist with a burning sense of duty.” In World War I Owen had enlisted as a volunteer on the frontlines and died exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice. His poetry is used in the War Requiem alongside the Latin text of a mass for the dead and argues with it: the World Wars of the 20th century were unlike any wars that had come before.
Britten assigned the canonical text of his requiem to soprano and mixed chorus singing together with the symphony orchestra as well as a children’s chorus accompanied by the organ. “The voices of today” – tenor and baritone – sing Owen’s verse to the accompaniment of a chamber ensemble (conducted by the composer himself at the premiere). It is only at the very end – when the Latin text speaks of eternal peace and the English text of enemies making peace after death – that all the performers come together.