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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem

Pelléas et Mélisande-Incidental Music, Op.80
Masques et Bergamasques, Op.112
Suzanne Danco (soprano) Gérard Souzay (baritone)
L’Union Chorale de la tour de Peilz
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
Recorded circa 1960 ADD
ELOQUENCE DECCA 450 131-2 [67.05] Super-budget

 

AVAILABILITY

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This Eloquence re-issue is something of a curate’s egg. I’m sure many people will want to purchase it for the main item, the ever-popular Requiem. In fact, that performance strikes me as the most problematical on the disc. It is, nevertheless, worth considering for the fillers, which sound as good as day one, and can be confidently recommended.

I was never totally convinced by Ansermet’s quasi-operatic, grandiose vision of Fauré’s gorgeously intimate choral masterpiece, and coming again to it has not changed my view. Requiem or not, the ridiculously slow opening is, I’m afraid, a sign of things to come. Violas are rather sourly tuned, and when the choir enter, the slow speed proves to be too much for them. Balance is poor within the choir itself, which has raucous tenors standing out far too much. The vibrato-laden sopranos will not be to everyone’s taste, either, and they enhance the rather operatic impression still further. The choir’s contribution generally is rather questionable, with discipline and tonal blend very suspect in places (try the opening of the sanctus, which is a model of poor phrasing and bad legato singing). Ansermet doesn’t help matters, for his tempi are wilful, generally being too indulgently slow for comfort, but elsewhere, as in the heart-rending Amen of the Offertorium, pushing on too perfunctorily for the mood of the moment.

The soloists are good within the context of this sort of old-fashioned performance. Danco’s once pure voice has a distinct beat, and though she sings sensitively, her Pie Jesu sounds straight off the opera stage. Souzay is, predictably, much more subtle, his two contributions adding up to the best thing in the whole performance.

There are simply too many good rivals around to really recommend this Requiem. If you like the big, bold approach, Andrew Davis’s well-drilled account on Sony (with Lucia Popp and Sigmund Nimsgern) should suffice; his coupling is an equally expert rendition of the marvellous, and very appropriate, Duruflé Requiem. If, like me, you prefer the smaller scale, more personal approach, look no further than John Rutter’s supremely musical, beautifully balanced reading on Collegium, or Jeremy Summerly’s excellent Oxford Camerata account on Naxos. Neither will disappoint.

The couplings, as I say, are altogether different. The recorded sound is vintage Decca, with plenty of bloom and detail, set in a warm, resonant acoustic. Ansermet sounds much more at home with just the orchestra, and the Suisse Romande (not always the most reliable band) do him proud. Phrasing is elegant, tempi seem perfectly judged, and both suites, which contain much fine music, emerge with real freshness. The famous Sicilienne, from Pelléas et Mélisande, is a good example, with the natural, unforced tone of the flautist sounding thoroughly idiomatic. I have not enjoyed these charming works as much for some time.

So, a qualified recommendation, worth the modest outlay for the orchestral items, but a Requiem only for aficionados of Ansermet’s ponderous ‘old-school’ style.

Tony Haywood


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