'War Requiem' I should be hard pressed to convince myself that any other musical event in the city of Boston this season could have been as deeply moving, as sumptuously brought off, or as musicologically and socially significant as Saturday's performance of Benjamin Britten's ''War Requiem,'' Op. 66.
This performance in Symphony Hall was many months and hundreds of people in the making, and the outcome was first class and memorable in practically every aspect.
In 1962, the reconstruction and rededication of bombed-out Coventry Cathedral was celebrated with a major arts festival, for which Britten's ''War Requiem'' was the largest-scaled commission. It is a poignant plea for peace everywhere in the world, representing Britten's crowning artistic gesture toward nonviolence and brotherhood - ideals which, next to music, were most important to him.
The work's construction is fairly complex, following the Latin requiem mass in all voices except the tenor and baritone soloists, who intermix pacifist poems of Wilfred Owen. Britten's amazing compositorial gifts keep both the seething Latin text and the writhing, stark lines of Owen on the track of a noble message, demonstrating his sublime Mozartean gifts in numerous passages where lesser composers would have seen their cue in aping the grit of the words' surface.
John Oliver, of Tanglewood Festival Chorus fame, conducted the agglomeration of forces, which, besides the Civic Symphony, comprised soloists Margaret Cusack , soprano; Marcus Haddock, tenor; S. Mark Aliapoulios, baritone; the Boston Boy Choir, led by Theodore Marier; the John Oliver Chorale, with extra singers; the Lydian String Quartet; and the Boston Chamber Orchestra.
Sir Peter Pears, tenor and Britten's career-long associate, was on hand to deliver a few remarks before the performance, mostly about Britten's devotion to community, to peace, and to music that ''involved people.''
John Oliver's ''people'' certainly were involved. They delivered a beautiful performance that was a hairsbreadth short of inspired. Balance problems lay only with the side-stage chamber groups accompanying (overpowering) the tenor and baritone soloists. The usual acoustic problems - orchestra vs. soprano and chorus, and percussion vs. everybody - were stunningly nonexistent. - David Owens