The recording of Fauré’s 1893 version of the Requiem is
now, thankfully, becoming relatively commonplace. There will always
be a place for the larger work, with full orchestra, but we must
accept that this was created at the behest of Fauré’s publisher
and the orchestration may not have been by Fauré himself.
had a long gestation. Fauré started work in 1877 and in
January 1888, five movements were performed. It was only in
1889 that the final two movements, Offertoire and Libera
me were added, but the Offertoire was based around
a setting of the Hostias which Fauré had sketched in
1877. All this implies that Fauré had a reasonably clear view
of what he wanted the work to be and that the long gestation
period was not the result of difficulties in composition.
The work was first
performed in full in 1893, but received its first public performance
in 1894 for which performance Fauré adjusted the orchestration.
This version uses chamber forces, two horns, two trumpets, three
trombones, timpani, harp, violas, cellos, basses and organ plus
solo violin for the Sanctus.
After the premiere,
though it was very popular, the work was criticised by some
commentators as pagan. In an interview in 1922 Fauré seems to
have agreed, arguing that pagan did not necessarily mean irreligious.
At the time, Fauré’s cutting of parts of the liturgical text
added to this controversy; he removed parts of the Offertoire
text and did not set the Dies Irae. All this disputation
might seem strange today, when the work is so universally loved;
I have taken part in quite a number of performances as part
of the Roman Catholic Liturgy.
Since John Rutter’s
1984 edition of the work’s original version, scholarship has
been at work and Jean-Michel Nectoux has brought out an edition
taking into account a rather larger number of original sources.
This new recording from the French chamber choir Accentus, under
their conductor Laurence Equilbey is frustratingly vague as
to whose edition of the work they are performing.
But what is not
in doubt is that Equilbey and her forces have produced a finely
sung and well modulated account of the work. The singers in
the choir would seem to be predominantly French and the orchestral
players are taken from the Orchestre Nationale de France. But
I cannot say that I detected much of a French accent in the
performance, such is the internationalism of performance style
nowadays; even the choir’s Latin seems to be pretty close to
what you’d expect from a similar English choir.
The choir’s tonal
control is very fine and their phrasing is impressive. This
disc contains some of the most beautiful moments in this work
that I have come across, for example the hauntingly beautiful
start of the Lux Aeterna. For the Sanctus and
In Paradisum Equilbey adds children’s voices from the
Maitrise de Paris and this helps with the wonderful transparency
of the soprano line.
are similarly fine, though I must confess that I have heard
darker-sounding accounts of the work. The violas are relatively
bright-toned and you feel the lack of violins less on this disc
than in other accounts.
The soprano solo
in the Pie Jesu is well taken by Sandrine Piau, who gives
us a tone which mixes boyish purity with womanly expression.
Similarly baritone Stephane Degout is fine in both his solos,
but I have found other accounts more thrilling and more moving.
This is not a showy
performance. Its tones are generally well modulated, but gets
significantly expansive of tone in the louder sections. Sadly
it lacks the intensity that should go with quietness in this
sort of music. There is a sort of neo-classical control surrounding
What is lacking
was brought home when I listened to the accompanying Cantique
Jean Racine. This has a romantic sweep which seems lacking
in much of the Requiem. I think that Equilbey was aiming
at a performance which emphasised the work’s liturgical dignity
and spiritual force, but they do not quite achieve it.
is taken at quite a steady tempo and there were one or two moments
when I would have liked a little more forward movement in the
The disc is relatively
short, containing only the Requiem and the Cantique
Jean Racine, whereas other accounts of the work include
more significant couplings; John Eliot Gardiner includes a selection
of motets and Ross Pople in his recording with English Voices
includes the Messe Basse.
The CD booklet includes
the full texts and translations and an interesting article on
the history of the work.
This is a disc which
contains some fine singing and playing. It offers what is, in
many ways, an admirable account of Fauré’s Requiem. But
in the end it fails to tug the heart-strings and thrill the soul.
see also Review
by Kevin Sutton