John Foulds’ A World Requiem
Leon Botstein, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Philharmonia Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Trinity Boys Choir, Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Stuart Skelton (tenor), Gerald Finley (baritone)
What Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was to the Second World War, John Foulds’ A World Requiem was to the First. That is to say, it was written as an act of commemoration, for all those lost in the horrors of 1914-18. For many years in the 1920s and early 1930s, it was routinely performed in the Albert Hall for the November Remembrance Day commemoration service. It then somewhat mysteriously disappeared, to be practically forgotten about for 70 years or so. The difference between Britten’s work and Foulds’, however, is enormous: Britten’s is quite clearly a masterpiece and the Foulds… er, isn’t! It starts out very effectively, to be sure. But it then rather gets bogged down in grandiose and rather conventional Victorian sentimentality, with no distinctive insight such as drips off every stave of the War Requiem. I enjoy it every time I listen to it, but there’s a reason people regularly stage the Britten work and not this, I’m afraid! Which is not to say it’s bad or rubbish: it’s definitely not. It’s just that it’s an hour and a half of enjoyable listening rather than a gut-wrenching emotional journey.