Foulds: A World Requiem

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: A World Requiem
PERFORMER: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo soprano), Stuart Skelton (tenor), Gerald Finley (baritone); Crouch End Festival Chorus; Philharmonia Chorus; Trinity Boys’ Choir; BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Leon Botstein
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHSA 5058(2) (hybrid CD/SACD)
What a crushing disappointment! Anyone looking for the blazing, crazy brilliance of Foulds’s Mantras, April-Englandor ,Dynamic Triptych is likely to come away with a very negative impression. There are occasional sparks of fire, mostly in Part II: the dancing cross-rhythms at the start of the ‘Laudamus’, the scintillating Scriabin-like harmonies in ‘Angeli’. But there’s barely a hint of the visionary daring of the best Foulds. Whether he was reining in his style in the interests of wider appeal, or simply felt that the nature of the text required a dignified, hieratic simplicity, Foulds’s music often sounds strangely bland. Most devastating of all, the solo writing shows little of that wonderful melodic freshness that stands out in so many of his finest pieces. It’s obvious that Foulds believed passionately in his text and wanted its message to come across as directly as possible (without too much ‘tuneful’ distraction?); but that seems to have had a fatally inhibiting effect of the solo lines. The end result is something that feels uncomfortably close to a protracted Edwardian Spiritualist sermon. Perhaps livelier direction might have helped – perhaps Foulds champion Sakari Oramo might have pushedA World Requiem to greater heights. It would still require a more tonally appealing, pitch-confident soprano than Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet though. The other performances are good enough, and the live recording has atmosphere, depth and clarity. Still, I hate to think of anyone judging Foulds on the basis of this.