Very occasionally, never often enough, comes great music (in this case the Benjamin Britten "War Requiem") so powerfully realized in performance that it transcends ordinary time and space, creates its own vistas and endures long after its sonics almost imperceptibly blend into closing silence. On Friday night at Washington National Cathedral, conductor J. Reilly Lewis, the Cathedral Choral Society, the Cathedral Boy Choristers, a full orchestra, three soloists whose very different contributions were pinnacles of achievement, the poetry of Wilfred Owen juxtaposed with and sometimes ground into the Latin Mass for the Dead, and--foremost--Britten's immensely potent score, made for something about as close as music gets to a vast diapason of perfection.
Britten wrote this work in 1962 specifically for the geometrical configurations of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. The sheer scale of the piece--its planar separation of past (the Latin texts, the soprano soloist), present (the tenor and baritone as dead soldiers, accompanied by their own chamber orchestra conducted Friday by Gisele Becker), and future (the boys chorus under conductor Douglas Major; the chorus was hidden from sight as the embodiment of future generations fated to die in battles as yet undeclared)--cannot be wholly realized except in a massively resonant venue like the National Cathedral. Lewis deployed great blocks of sound to meld time's seemingly immutable dimensions into a unique, acutely disturbing temporal unity.
The extravagant gifts of tenor Carl Halvorson, baritone Hakan Hagegard and soprano Christine Goerke warrant extended comment, but suffice it to say that each sang with rare tonal beauty and passionate commitment.