Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem First Performance

Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” was given its first performance as part of the celebrations of the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral, on May 30th 1962. It was broadcast ‘live’ by the B.B.C. and was one of two performances given by the original participants. The soprano Galina Vishnevskaya was unavailable for these and was replaced by Heather Harper. The first commercial recording was issued in 1963 and the soloists were as originally intended, however, other changes included the organist and boys’ choir.

A chance conversation with John Cooper, the organist of the first performance, led to a search for a recording of the broadcast from Coventry. We were enjoying lunch in a restaurant in Lowestoft, just across the road from Benjamin Britten’s birthplace, when the subject of “War Requiem” was raised. Had anyone recorded it?

The Digital Gramophone Company has access to a large private sound archive, and I, with some trepidation, searched the catalogue. There, to my great delight, was “War Requiem”, First Performance, Coventry, etc.” The tape was located, and had survived in good condition. The complete broadcast, announcements, et al., recorded ‘off air’ by an enthusiast, and in good quality sound, with only minor deterioration over fifty years, and found in the house where I was born – a mere stone’s throw from where Benjamin Britten was born! Coincidences can be remarkable.

We are proud to make available to the public, after fifty years, a digitally restored recording of this very important first performance, under the composer’s direction.

    Terry Hepworth

Available now on all major download stores.


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