Review: Waltham Forest Remembers

War Requiem by Benjamin Britten

London Forest and South West Essex Choirs

Choristers from Chingford and Waltham Forest

Forest Philharmonic Orchestra.

Conductors Jonathan Rathbone, Andrew Sackett, Michael Emerson

Watching the rank upon rank of singers and instrumentalists taking their places in the Assembly Hall on Saturday evening one had the impression that some titanic event was about to take place. From the moment in which the orchestra chilled us with those desolate opening chords and sinking motifs we were transported into a world of conflict and bitter memory.

Bugle calls and the thunder or patter of guns: savage brass sounds and huge percussive explosions punctuated the singing of the wonderfully responsive chorus. Three conductors, working in remarkable unity, directed this stupendous performance, and tossing their voices almost miraculously about the huge space the three soloists Cheryl Enever (soprano), Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks (tenor) and Quentin Hayes (baritone) created moments of pure theatre in this gripping and deeply moving performance.

Benjamin Britten challenges us to maintain religious faith in the context of humankind’s ability to create hell by juxtaposing the words of the Requiem with words of the great war poet, Wilfred Owen. The work is made all the more poignant by the fact that the poet was killed a few days before the Armistice in 1918. A sense of futility permeates our remembering of those events.

The quietly intoned Requiem Aeternam with which the performance begins soon moves into bleak landscapes in which the soloists use Owen’s words and those of the Requiem Mass to hold a kind of dialogue between faith and doubt and between hope and despair. These aspects of Britten’s work were beautifully realised in this performance with the soloists sensitively exploring the meanings and emotions of the text. The fine orchestra and small chamber orchestra responded with similar restrained yet powerful artistry to the constantly shifting demands of the score. And there, hovering in the background, was the exquisite sound of the choristers. The singing and playing demonstrated that unique choral tradition of this country at its finest and yet the very barbarity of the music kept the idea of the folly of war in everyone’s minds.

This was more than a performance: it was an event of huge significance which demonstrated what can be achieved by co-operation. Those responsible for its organisation, achieving funding, managing, staging and promoting it deserve high praise for demonstrating the potential and health of the arts in this borough.

As the excellent exhibition in the foyer demonstrated, the conditions that led up to and resulted from the Armistice of 100 years ago have continued to affect us: no part of the world escaped the legacy of the First World War: this was not just a night to remember, it was a night to remember that legacy.

Dr Kenneth Pickering

  • South West Essex Choir always welcomes new members, particularly male voices. No audition is necessary but you must be able to sing and be willing to commit to regular rehearsals. The choir meets on Tuesdays from 7.45pm to 10pm at the Methodist Church, High Road, Loughton IG10 1RB. For more information please contact Mary McElarney on 01992 812606 or We are planning a free “Come and sing” event in January: further details will be on