Performing the War Requiem: the soloists’ views

Our soloists explain what the War Requiem means to them and the attraction of singing in Winchester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey.

Linda Richardson: Soprano

“Britten’s War Requiem is a challenge for every musician technically and emotionally, a staggeringly powerful masterpiece. It evokes many different emotions on a human and spiritual level, both publicly and intimately. It speaks of the relationship between man and God, and man in war.

“Performing the War Requiem in both these beautiful venues will only heighten the emotional impact, particularly as we are coming to the end of the commemorations of the First World War. I am very much looking forward to performing with all involved.”

James Gilchrist: Tenor

“I’ve performed this piece quite a few times now, and often in astonishing places. When I was a student, I did a performance in Coventry Cathedral, which I will never forget. I was playing in the cello section of the first orchestra, and I think it was one of the first performances I’d taken part in. I was overwhelmed by it, especially the Dies Irae, and the In Paradisum.

“Since I’ve been doing the tenor line, I have had a chance to do a wonderful performance in the newly re-constructed Frauenkirche in Dresden, in San Fransisco with a cast of millions (!), and most recently with a wonderfully international cast of young people from across Europe, in Berlin, Wroclaw and Cologne: it made for a HUGE performance. I came away thinking that the world is in a good place with young people like this around. If only they were running it….

“It’s an extraordinary piece. It’s not perfect, and I still wonder whether some bits really work, whether he might have improved the instrumentation and so on, but so much is spot on, and the incorporation of Owen’s poems a touch of genius. What comes across is how heartfelt it is. It’s tough not to become too deeply involved in a performance and to remember (as a performer) that you have a job to do. I am looking forward greatly to performing this work again in Winchester and Tewkesbury.”

Quentin Hayes: Baritone

“I recently read a book – Voices of the Somme  – a collection of diary extracts from soldiers at the Front. On the first day of the battle, British fatalities exceeded 40,000. Here we are 100 years on and apparently British soldiers have been killed on active service every single year since the end of World War Two. At the front of the War Requiem vocal score is Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘my subject is War and the pity of War’. Sometimes words seem inappropriate, even banal.  I think Benjamin Britten manages to express for us all in his music, sentiments and emotions that words alone  cannot quantify.

“As for the venues, from an aesthetic point of view, the sheer vastness of the nave in Winchester fits the enormity of the piece whereas  Tewkesbury Abbey at the conjunction of the rivers Severn and Avon epitomises an England and a way of life that vanished after the Great War. The gravitas of the bell towards the end of the Requiem can only truly be effective in a cathedral or church, where one is then inspired to contemplate the profundity of what we are hearing. Yes, it is emotionally draining to sing the baritone solo part but the least one can do to honour the memory of the thousands fallen.”