> FAURE Requiem Ansermet [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Pelléas et Mélisande
Masques et Bergamasques

Suzanne Danco, soprano
Gérard Souzay, baritone
L’Union Chorale de la tour de Peilz
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Ernest Ansermet
Recorded 1960 –61
DECCA ELOQUENCE 450 131-2 [67’05]

Even Ansermet’s most devoted acolytes would be hard pushed to defend the performance of the Requiem enshrined in this Decca Eloquence disc. Admirer of the conductor though I am – his Brahms was often deeply impressive, his catholicity in the modern repertoire sagacious and pointed – I’m afraid that there is little to salvage from the recording other than the singing of Gérard Souzay. Ansermet’s way with the Requiem is replete with sluggish tempi and adduced piety and is inconsistent both in tempo relation and architecture. Furthermore the Suisse Romande was, on this showing, nowhere near its finest and the Choir make a quite lamentable exhibition of themselves. The Introit and Kyrie is an unimaginative trudge; the first entry of the tenors show them to be undisciplined, hoarse-toned, raucous and unblended, featureless in phrasing, deficient in balance and with an overemphatic deliberation that is truly dispiriting to hear. Nor did I much like what followed; the Offertoire is lugubrious and the sopranos are unstable, with the kind of oscillatory collective vibrato that envelops the work in generic simplicities. Danco is a treasurable singer, of course, but even her contributions sound rather too matronly to my ears and too operatic for comfort, failing to scale down her voice, rolling her consonants with rather too much relish in the Pie Jesu and emerging unvaried and unsympathetic in approach. Souzay is, as I suggested earlier, the ornament of the performance. Those who know and admire his Fauré Chanson album will know how sensitively attuned he is to the milieu, how flexibly he phrases, how well he husbands tonal reserves, how, for want of a better word, appropriate his singing is here. What remains so unavoidably and unignorably problematic is the near catastrophic mess going on around him. Which makes the orchestral pieces’ relative excellence all the more unexpectedly welcome. Sensitive and pliant string playing and phrasing, some verdant woodwinds, deep hewn cellos and Ansermet himself, notably impressive in Pelléas et Mélisande. The Masques et Bergamasques suite is joyous and perfectly weighted and judged, with considerable elegance of orchestral playing. But these orchestral performances are saddled with a Requiem so disappointing that it makes a recommendation quite impossible.

Jonathan Woolf

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