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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem Op. 48 (1887)
Victoria de los Angeles, soprano
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
Choeurs Elisabeth Brasseur
Orchestre de la Société Concerts du Conservatoire/André Cluytens
Recorded in February and May of 1962 at L’Êglise Saint-Roch, Paris ADD
EMI CLASSICS Great Recordings of the Century 668942 [39:55]

The Requiem Mass of Gabriel Fauré differs from the similar works of his contemporaries. It is a gentle and serene work, eschewing the fascination with death, judgment and destruction that so captivated Verdi, Cherubini and Berlioz. Fauré’s view of death was much more optimistic. Death was not to be feared; rather it was to be welcomed as a relief from suffering and the passage into a more blissful life. With that philosophy in mind, Fauré opted to set only two verses of the Dies irae. The end product is one of the most lofty and sublimely melodic works in the standard choral repertoire.

Alas, this aging performance by André Cluytens and company does little to inspire. Rather, we are faced with forty minutes of nearly unbearable singing, rescued only by the superb performances of the soloists, who, then at the start of their careers, lend credibility to an otherwise excruciating performance.

Much of the fault lies with Cluytens’ lugubrious tempo choices. In every sense this reading is entirely too slow. Fauré’s lofty and ethereal melodies are crucified when they are stretched beyond recognition. In the one truly dramatic moment of the entire work, the Dies illa portion of the Libera me, there is absolutely no sense of forward motion, urgency or conflict. Sure, Fischer-Dieskau’s near-perfect solo work is worth a listen, but even such fine singing as his cannot rescue this turgid rendition.

Now on to the most important element in any performance of this piece: the choir. Until conductors like William Christie and Philippe Herreweghe went to France and taught them how to sing, French choirs were notoriously terrible. This is a prime example of the low state of choral affairs that was predominant in France in the ’fifties and ’sixties. There is absolutely no blend and the vibrato is completely out of control. Especially horrendous are the tenors and sopranos who sound as though their average age was seventy. The sopranos wobble and blare and the tenors bleat like goats. There is not a redeeming quality to be found in the choral singing, and given the superb alternative choices in recordings of this work, it baffles me altogether that this one has even survived, let alone qualified to be called a "great recording of the century."

On the positive side, we do get to hear two legendary soloists in their prime sing some beautiful music. Alas, this too is hampered by the recorded sound, which places both soprano and baritone smack in front of a microphone, giving the sense that the orchestra is in the next room.

Orchestral playing is warm and lush, and the strings provide a lovely sheen to the proceedings. Alas, the wind playing is as out of tune as the chorus sopranos and the choice of organ registrations is obnoxious and out of place, especially in the divine In paradisum.

EMI are to be commended for including an informative, but brief program note, and a complete text and translation. They are to be condemned however for issuing a disc with a meagre forty minutes of music. Surely there is something in the EMI vaults that would have made an appropriate filler.

Unless you are a collector of Fischer-Dieskau or de los Angeles, there is nothing else that should convince you to add this disc to your collection.

Kevin Sutton



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