Benjamin Britten's epic War Requiem (1962) inhabits a singular place among the musical memorials dedicated to the fallen of World War II.

In War Requiem, Britten stakes out a middle ground between flag waving, strike-up-the-band pieces such as Marc Blitzstein's forgotten Airborne Symphony (1946) and chilling though utterly abstract works such as Luigi Nono's "Remember what they did to you at Auschwitz" (1966) or the famed Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) by Krzysztof Penderecki, whose original title was the coolly numeric 8'37".

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Britten daringly blends desolate abstraction with plain-spoken emotion by embedding Wilfred Owen's antiwar poems within the Latin Mass for the dead.

In the first movement, the chorus gently chants "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine." Though most of us don't speak or understand Latin, we pick out a word or two and fall sway to implacable elemental grandeur of massed voices. Owen, killed in World War I just one week before the Armistice, provides the next line; a solo tenor sings "What passing bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns."

Scored for orchestra, boys' choir, mixed chorus, organ, and chamber orchestra as well as tenor, baritone, and soprano soloists, War Requiem is a feast for the ears. Britten creates startling textures throughout, especially in the "Sanctus." I love the opening soprano duet with tintinnabulating bells. I also marvel at the chaotically murmuring chorus, which, after a miraculous pause, yields to martial cannonades of horns and trombones. Soon, a baritone closes the "Sanctus" decrying the fate of all war-tainted soldiers: "Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified, Nor my titanic tears, the sea, be dried." recommended

Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers perform the War Requiem on Sun Feb 10 at Meany Hall, UW Campus, 685-8384, 3 pm, $10–$25.

Concerts

Thurs 2/7

SEATTLE SYMPHONY

A rare event: The symphony plays music by one of the lodestars of the 20th-century avant garde, Edgard Varèse (1883—1965). Conductor Michael Stern and the band essay Intégrales, a brief, surreal swirl of monstrously groaning brass and fractured military marches. Cellist Lynn Harrell is the soloist in the Cello Concerto No. 2 by the all-but-forgotten Victor Herbert (1859—1924). Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3 plumps up the bulk of the program. Also Fri Feb 8 at 8 pm and Sat Feb 9 at 8 pm. The Sun Feb 10 performance at 2 pm omits Intégrales. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747, 7:30 pm, $17—$125.

JESSICA WILLIAMS

This jazz piano virtuoso debuts a new suite of compositions. In a segment described as "part talk show," Williams riffs on her musical forebears, influences, and music technology, and chats with show opener Aiko Shimada. The Triple Door, 216 Union St, 838-4333, 7:30 pm, $20.

Fri 2/8

TEMPERED STEEL

Avant guitarist Dennis Rea, Ffej, and instrument builder Frank Junk (remember Utterance Tongue?) update and electrify the thumb piano, an ancient African instrument of flattened nails, wood, and hollowed-out, dried gourd. Tempered Steel dubs out, distorts, and layers gentle tones into blipping polyrhythmic soundscapes. Floating Leaves Tea House, 2213 NW Market St., 529-4268, 7:30 pm, donation requested.

SEATTLE COMPOSERS SEMINAR

Not the Seattle Composers Salon, but a showcase organized by composer Gloria Wilson Swisher. The evening's eight premieres include works variously scored for recorder and viol de gamba, choir, flute and piano, string trio, and other atypical combinations by Swisher, Greg Bartholomew, Fabio Ciofini, Dale Dykins, John David Gordon, Nancy Kern, Georgia Lockwood, Bernard Super, and the 15-year-old Lauren Geertsen. Christ Episcopal Church, 1305 NE 47th St, 633-1611, 7:30 pm, free.

SEATTLE IMPROVISED MUSIC FESTIVAL

The first weekend of North America's longest-running festival devoted to freely improvised music boasts a slew of excellent players: Japanese avant guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama and a solo set from Gregory Reynolds (Fri 2/8); the seldom-seen but superb bassist Mark Collins and Zürich-based electronicist Jason Kahn (Sat 2/9); and ad hoc duos and trios with the aforementioned musicians and more (Sun 2/10 at Gallery 1412). Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 8 pm, $10—$25 sliding scale donation.

Sat 2/9

THE ESOTERICS

In honor of assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, this a cappella ensemble sings Arvo Pärt's haunting Canon of Repentance. Also Sun Feb 10 at Holy Rosary Church in West Seattle at 3 pm. St Joseph's Church, 732 18th Ave E, 935-7779, 8 pm, $15—$20.

Tues 2/12

UW CONTEMPORARY GROUP

Support The Stranger

The Contemporary Group consistently offers an improbable mix of avant classical hits and rarities. Here, UW students and top-notch grads perform the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp by Claude Debussy; William Albright's "Take That" for 16 drums; and excerpts from Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus. Fans of French Spectralist composer Gérard Grisey won't want to miss Vortex Temporum I and II. Meany Theater, UW Campus, 685-8384, 7:30 pm, $10.

chris@delaurenti.net

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