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
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
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.