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All served the themes of peace and reconciliation

Conductors, it might be said, are at their best when you barely notice they are there.

Britten's War Requiem at The Sage Gateshead

Conductors, it might be said, are at their best when you barely notice they are there.

Not that Takuo Yuasa is particularly unobtrusive. His gestures are as fluent as any and his career has been a significant international success. But the sum of a performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem should be greater than its parts. However great or small their individual contribution, generals and foot soldiers alike are there to serve the music, and the music of the War Requiem is to serve the themes of peace and reconciliation.

Written for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, the work was first performed there in 1962, 22 years after the original 14th Century St Michael's was destroyed by the Luftwaffe. And like the First World War victim Wilfred Owen, whose poems are integrated with the Latin Mass for the Dead, Britten's anti-war sentiments lose none of their relevance in the present century.

Unlike a First World War general, Yuasa took great care of his forces with a clear yet expressive beat, indicating individual entries and coordinating with David Swinson, directing the Croyden Trinity Boys Choir high in the rear gallery. Ranged in front of Yuasa were the huge Huddersfield Choral Society, the Northern Sinfonia orchestra, the Orchestra of Opera North and three vocal soloists.

If the latter were sometimes lost in the orchestral onrush, the quieter passages revealed starkly convincing characterisations of Owen's protagonists with tenor Paul Nilon and baritone Grant Doyle chillingly nonchalant in The Next War: "Out there, we walked quite friendly up to Death ..."

Soprano Janice Watson sang from high in the front gallery, her May the Choir of Angels emerging ecstatically from the luminous sound of the combined choirs.


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