> Faure Requiem Franck Symphony [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Johannette Zomer, soprano
Stephan Genz, baritone
La Chapelle Royale Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestre des Champs Elysées/Philippe Herreweghe
Recorded Le Grande Salle de l’Arsenal de Metz, November 2001
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901771 [75’46]


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Herreweghe has recorded the Requiem before. Thirteen years ago he gave the "Madeleine version", the chamber arrangement, which caused something of a stir at the time. The new recording is the familiar "concert version", the full score. He employs period instruments, a "loud harmonium" as sanctioned by Fauré when an organ was unavailable and most importantly the use of Gallic pronunciation of Latin. The distinguished Fauré scholar Jean-Michel Nectoux notes that this is an attempt to approach the verbal sound heard in Fauré’s day (a sound now much changed) whilst acknowledging that it represents only one of several approaches of interpretation. The lack of prescriptive judgement is entirely laudable and interestingly the performers used a 1930 recording of the work – conducted by Gustave Bret – as a benchmark for the prevailing Parisian Latin pronunciation.

There are many things in the recording that I found attractive; the mellowness of the gut strings, the harmonium interjections, the choral precision and warmth. Herreweghe’s sympathetic conducting has frequent radiance. But isn’t the opening Introit and Kyrie simply marmoreal at this tempo? There is something congealed about the music at this speed, an inertia that weights the music too heavily in one direction. I suspect Herreweghe was trying to underscore the music’s journey from introspection to the acceptance of the concluding In paradisum but it sounds unconvincing. I liked the clarity and the veiled quality of the strings in the Offertoire, the lightening of the texture at In excelsis in the Sanctus – a very acute piece of choral conducting. As for the solo singers Stephan Genz has a pleasantly warm baritone. Johannette Zomer gives full weight to the pronunciation of the J in Jesu. She has an intrinsically beautiful voice and sure dramatic sense and is impressively equipped in all but one respect. She has – and consistently employs – what I can only call a terminal vibrato; phrase endings are repeatedly compromised by a vibrato that widens and oscillates wildly. Elsewhere Herreweghe moulds his forces affectionately, too much so really in Libera me where his tendency to Elysian languor gets the better of him. Pastel hued violins end the piece and an attractive performance but not a comprehensively convincing or successful one.

Harmonia Mundi doesn’t even advertise the existence of the Franck Symphony on their CD cover so concentrated are they on the Requiem. I liked Herreweghe’s restraint; it’s good once in a while to exercise some aural diplomacy in the work but it pulls too many punches in the end to be more than passingly attractive.

Jonathan Woolf

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