The music of John
Foulds has undergone quite a revival on disc in the past few
years, most notably thanks to the City of Birmingham Symphony
Orchestra, Sakari Oramo and Warner Classics (review
2). Here is a work which was performed for the first time
in 81 years on Remembrance Sunday 2007 in the Royal Albert Hall,
London and has since divided critical
opinion greatly. The “Lost Requiem” - as Jessica
Duchen has dubbed it - was recorded live on that night by
Chandos and has been issued very promptly on two hybrid SACDs.
The World Requiem
is subtitled “A tribute to the memory of the Dead – a message
of consolation to the bereaved of all countries”. Its message
seems to resonate today as strongly as it must have done in the
1920s. In general, it is more conventional than music Foulds wrote
soon afterwards such as the three Mantras from Avatara.
The musical language is often Elgarian with just the occasional
reaching forwards to quarter-tones, such as in the Confessio (track
3, disc 1). But Foulds was master of the large forces he required,
at least compositionally and, I would suspect, on the podium too
in the 1920s. The contribution of Foulds’s wife, Maud MacCarthy
should not go unrecognised. She put together the part-Latin, mostly
English text and led the orchestra in annual performances that
took place on Armistice Day from 1923 to 1926.
There are two parts,
each with ten sections which play continuously for about three-quarters
of an hour. I won’t try to describe the music much further –
it demands to be heard and individuals will react differently.
But, to me, it seems to achieve its consolatory aim, to radiate
pacifism and tolerance, and to cross religious denominational
boundaries. And I don’t feel it outstays its welcome for a single
If reaction to the
belated revival of this work has been mixed, everyone seems
to agree that the 2007 performance was a success, the only criticism
I have come across being levelled at soprano Jeanne-Michèle
Charbonnet’s wobbles. These are most noticeable early on and,
whilst not denying the existence of a wobble, I feel inclined
to defend her a little. Indeed I wonder, slightly tongue-in-cheek,
whether Foulds might not have approved. Surely this small idiosyncrasy
hardly detracts from the overall performance of a large team
of musicians who performed with great conviction? Gerald Finlay
is simply superb and Leon Botstein’s overall grip also demands
superlatives. Bravo to the other soloists, the orchestra and
the various choruses too. This was a memorable occasion in November
as heard on the radio in my living room and I am very grateful
that it has been preserved.
What can hardly
be controversial about this set is the high quality of both
the recording and the presentation – both are truly excellent.
I have only listened in two-channel stereo but the sound-picture
has great depth and clarity, and presents a well-balanced, natural
perspective. As usual, the BBC radio broadcast from the Albert
Hall on the night sounded good to me through a decent, old-fashioned
analogue tuner. But this recording is something else – real
Premier League stuff. It is as if one were actually in the hall
but without disadvantages such as fidgety neighbours. Just occasionally
there is audible noise from the audience but this is trivial.
I imagine that the decision to omit applause was easy, certainly
I would be throwing brickbats right now if it had been otherwise.
In terms of presentation,
the discs come in cardboard slips in a thin box with each part
of the work complete on one disc. The picture on the front is
of the ruins of the Grand Place in Cambrai, France and was taken
around 1917. The booklet has 116 pages, the full text in three
languages, pictures of the composer, his wife, and the performers
at the 2007 event. There are also interesting essays by Calum
MacDonald and Simon Heffer plus facsimiles from the programme
of the first performance.
Proposing this for
“recording of the month” was an easy decision. I shall be surprised
if it isn’t one of my discs of the year too. Ventures like this
give one hope for the future of recorded music; whether there
is any hope for the world itself is another question. Foulds
and MacCarthy seemed convinced of it in the 1920s and so did
the artists who gave this magnificent 21st century
performance. Let us hope they are right.
Patrick C Waller