Truly remarkable Requiem

Britten Sinfonia and Festival Chorus @ Bury St Edmunds Festival

Britten Sinfonia and Festival Chorus @ Bury St Edmunds Festival


Forget the history of who actually completed which sections – the Mozart Requiem is an inspiring work, though whether it was inspiration or the sheer pace of conductor Stephen Layton's reading on Saturday evening in Bury Cathedral which made it remarkable, is open to argument.

Certainly the audience indicated that they were uplifted by the confident chorus, obviously well drilled by James Thomas and the so-flexible Britten Sinfonia.

A quartet of young soloists made their mark particularly in Tuba mirum where Mary Nelson (soprano), Julianne Young (mezzo), Julian Rodger (tenor) and Richard Strivens (bass) were well matched. The chorus showed impressive dynamic range in Lacrymosa and an emphatic Dies Irae followed by a really explosive Rex Tremendae.

A few more men's voices might have avoided over-singing in the Sanctus but there was little sign of vocal fatigue until the final pages – not surprising as extreme concentration was needed to keep up the forcefulness of a performance to savour, if not one of total spiritualism.

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Baritone Nigel Cliffe's brainchild cycle based on letters written by his great-uncle in a Ypres trench, was, I felt, rather less than inspiring with a trio of extra chapters added by composer Roxanna Panufnik.

Cliffe painted the vocal lines with great feeling, the music reflecting an atmosphere of distance as it became more pessimistic. The Britten Sinfonia had earlier displayed its trademark of beautifully rounded stringed tones in Grieg's Holberg Suite in a thoughtful performance of great precision – their intensity is quite outstanding.