Blitz Requiem at St Paul’s Cathedral
You could not ask for grander or more fitting surroundings for David Goode’s latest work, Blitz Requiem. St Paul’s Cathedral, which miraculously survived the relentless bombing of London from September 1940 onwards, became the symbol of Britain’s stoicism in the face of such terror. A photograph of its domed tower, surrounded by smoke, would go on to become one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, just as it remains one of the most famous buildings on London’s skyline to date.
Musically though, dealing with the acoustical challenges of such a vast marble-lined space can prove somewhat difficult. It was hard to tell whether the beautiful sound of the Bach Choir travelled better to other parts of the Cathedral, but sitting stage right, the audience was often confronted by a sheer wall of sound in which individual words became indistinguishable. Given that David Goode’s requiem was composed with Francis Warner’s words in mind, this is something of a setback for the piece as a whole.
However the general gist of the piece survives being lost in translation due to the air raid sirens that jolt the audience out of their reverie at the beginning. These sirens provide an ominous opening and set the tone for what is to come. Warner’s libretto takes the shape of a traditional Latin Mass, and as such is made of many movements, the most dramatic of which, Dies Irae, charts an air raid on a school, from the moment the bombs are dropped to the aftermath in which the children are buried in a mass grave.
Conducted by David Hill, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bach Choir cannot be faulted, despite the acoustical problems they have clearly been facing. The four soloists, who sing on a call and response basis with the choir, often find it difficult to traverse the echoing space, though the motif works well on the whole. Goode’s music is in keeping with Warner’s libretto but many of the movements lack individual definition and thus have a habit of blending into one another too easily.
Given a less acoustically challenging venue, the subtleties of the Blitz Requiem may have more room for appreciation, but the grandeur of St Paul’s as a location means that despite the problems, this world premiere is still hypnotising in many ways.
Photos: Krish Nagari
This performance of Blitz Requiem will be broadcast on Classic FM on the 3rd October 2013 at 7.30pm. For further information visit the Classic FM website here.
For further information about Blitz Requiem visit here
Watch David Hill, Francis Warner and David Goode’s introduction to Blitz Requiem here: