Requiem, The Pity of War (Warner)

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Another themed album, but for once a timely theme. Ian Bostridge has chosen sets by two composers who fell in the First World War and two who knew the terror of war without having experienced it. George Butterworth’s setting of A. E. Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad captures at once the timelessness of English landscape and the hopelessness of young men in the trenches. Bostridge wrenches the heart with his falsetto lines in ‘Is my team ploughing?’, the appeal of a fallen soldier. Butterworth fell on the Somme to a sniper’s bullet in August 1916.

Rudi Stephan was 28 when he was shot by a Russian near Tarnopol (today Ternopil) on the eastern front. A daring composer, he drifts close to atonality and deep into the erotic zone in Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied (I’d like to sing you a high song). Kurt Weill’s settings of Walt Whitman’s US Civil War songs are little known. There’s something of Charles Ives in Weill’s approach, a digression from his burgeoning Broadway career. Four early songs by Gustav Mahler round off the recital. Antonio Pappano is a sensitive pianist, perhaps a tad too dramatic when Bostridge is at his most restrained, but the pair are never less than thought-provoking and, sometimes, transcendent.

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Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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