> Faure - Villette - Roger Ducasse [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Cantique de Jean Racine

Pierre VILLETTE (1926-1998)

O salutaris hostia
O magnum mysterium

Jean ROGER-DUCASSE (1873-1954)

Regina cúli laetare
Crux fidelis
Alma redemptoris Mater

Nancy Argenta, soprano, Simon Keenlyside, baritone, Kenan Burrows, treble, Richard Studt, violin
Winchester Cathedral Choir, Bournemouth Sinfonietta/David Hill
Recorded Winchester Cathedral June-July 1996
VIRGIN CLASSICS 7243 5 61994 2 [61.46]

The Fauré Requiem is one of those pieces that have become more and more popular as the years have gone by. In some ways, this is quite hard to account for; the piece lacks the hectic drama of the Verdi or Berlioz settings, or the variety and majesty of the Mozart. In terms of tempo, it hardly ever gets out of second gear. Yet so perfect is it in every detail, so satisfying its progress from the stern opening to the comforting close, that it never fails to make a profound impact.

Its other wonder is that it is performable by the most modest of amateur choral societies, yet repays amply a thoroughly prepared performance by forces of the highest quality. Here we have the radiant sound of Winchester Cathedral Choir, with two excellent soloists, sensitively and ably directed by David Hill on his current home ground.

This recording gives us what can be described as the Ďoriginalí version, in that it uses a small orchestra and all-male chorus as in its first performance. Hill takes an approach which cleverly combines austerity with expressive flexibility; the very opening illustrates, too, what a very wide dynamic range he is able to command, and this remains a feature throughout. Nancy Argenta and Simon Keenlyside are ideal soloists for this approach, and both sing impeccably.

Of course the sound of the all-male choir will not please everybody, close though it may be to Fauréís original intention. However, the Winchester trebles are genuinely fine, with an attractive but penetrating Ďedgeí to their tone, and an ability to muster considerable power. Equally, their unforced purity in the Sanctus and In Paradisum movements is balm to the ear. A disappointment in the In Paradisum movement, on the other hand, is that Stephen Farrís important organ semiquavers are all but inaudible. The Bournemouth Sinfonietta accompanies stylishly throughout.

The disc is completed by more ethereal music. Fauréís short Cantique is nowadays a familiar item, though more than welcome in a lovely performance like this; Villette and Roger-Ducasse are another matter, and may well be unknown to British listeners. Do give them a hearing, because you will not be disappointed. The two unaccompanied Villette motets are gems, both rising from intimate openings to climaxes of powerful exultation. The Lydian harmonies of O magnum mysterium bring about an ending of magical delicacy.

The Roger-Ducasse items are, perhaps, even more beguiling. Accompanied by organ, they feature the voice of young Kenan Burrows, a treble soloist of great beauty and purity of tone. In fact itís hard to imagine these solos done better, for Kenan also has the gift of unobtrusively controlled breathing and musical but natural phrasing. The three motets make a convincing group, the middle one, Crux Fidelis, being the mot impassioned and dramatic.

Of course, the catalogue is packed with distinguished versions of this Requiem, not only from top British conductors such as Hickox, Ledger and Guest, but naturally from French maestri too. I believe this one can live quite happily in that company, while its wonderful complementary items make it surely a very strong contender.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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