Indeed, the stage was also bursting with performers. The combined forces of the VSO, the Victoria Choral Society and the Vox Humana choir just barely squeezed on to the stage – and the chamber orchestra called for in the score couldn’t be physically separated from the larger orchestra. The St. Michael`s University School Children’s Choir was positioned in the back of the balcony.
I’m glad to say that nothing like that happened on this occasion. Under the baton of VSO music director Tania Miller, Britten’s score was many things – running the gamut from tender to harsh to grandiloquent – yet always enfolded within an overarching, unifying gravitas.
The ensembles were all highly responsive to Miller’s clear direction, as she paced the piece thoughtfully, in a well-controlled performance. At times, she held her forces in check. But this made the big climaxes – in the Sanctus and Libera Me movements – into moments of impressive power.
Of course, no War Requiem can be any better than the three vocal soloists engaged for the performance. Britten’s demands on his soloists are daunting: often they are called upon to sing fiendishly difficult parts with very little orchestral support. Happily, the VSO chose well. Soprano Joni Henson, tenor Benjamin Butterfield and baritone Phillip Addis all shone, with accurate intonation, clear diction and dramatic interpretation.
Did I say that the War Requiem was the only thing on the program? That’s not quite true. Before the Britten, the VSO screened an audiovisual presentation on the life of the late Hugh Davidson, composer, arts administrator – and a VSO benefactor, whose final gift to the orchestra was made in support of the evening’s performance. It was a fitting tribute.
© Colin Eatock 2014