Much of the music on these two well-filled CDs
comes from a couple of discs originally released on the Conifer
label. The Fauré Requiem and Cantique together with the
Duruflé and Messiaen items were on Conifer CDCF176, from
1990. The sets of Poulenc motets came from a recital of that composer’s
music, including the Mass in G, issued, I think, in 1988 (CDCF151).
I’ve been unable to trace the sources of the remaining items
and BMG give no clue whatsoever as to when and where they were
recorded. (I suspect most of the music was set down in Trinity
College Chapel though I can’t be certain that the chapel
would have been big enough to accommodate comfortably the forces
needed for the Fauré Requiem.)
For the Requiem Richard Marlow opts to use the
edition for which the accompaniment was reconstructed by the French
scholar, Jean-Michel Nectoux. He based his work on a set of original
and authentic orchestral parts, which only came to light in 1969.
The orchestral forces used fall between those employed by John
Rutter in his fine edition of the original 1894 score and the
large orchestra required for the 1901 edition which was for so
long the standard performing version.
Unfortunately, as is always the case with this
BMG series, there are no notes (apart from a brief and superficial
overview, in French only, of the whole programme). So there’s
no information about the important question of the version of
the score that is played here. Such information as I have has
come from a review in Gramophone magazine (April 1989) by Michael
Oliver of a Harmonia Mundi recording by Philippe Herreweghe, which
was, I believe, the first to use the Nectoux score. I think this
Trinity performance was its second recording. In brief, perhaps
the most audible difference between Nectoux and Rutter lies in
the more prominent horn parts in the Nectoux score. This is especially
noticeable in the ‘Offertoire’ and in the ‘Dies
Irae’ section of the ’Libera me.’ Because there’s
a rather fuller orchestral palette the organ is a little less
prominent in the Nectoux edition as compared with the Rutter.
This was the first time I’d heard the Nectoux
score. I found it fascinating and highly effective, though I retain
a marginal preference for Rutter. In all honesty the differences
between the two are not enormous and, so far as I know, the vocal
parts are not affected at all. Unless one craves the “authentic”
French choral tone it would be hard to imagine a better rendition
of the Nectoux score than this present one. Trinity has long been
one of Britain’s finest collegiate/cathedral choirs under
Richard Marlow’s wise and disciplined guidance. Here the
choir sings quite beautifully, giving a performance which has
clearly been prepared scrupulously but which never sounds studied
in any way.
Camilla Otaki sings the ‘Pie Jesu’
with poised sincerity and great purity of tone while Mark Griffiths
has just the sort of light, flexible baritone that suits this
music. There is also a sweet-toned violin obbligato in the Sanctus.
The recorded sound is generally sympathetic and natural. My only
slight reservation is that on my equipment the orchestral bass
sounded a bit too heavy in relation to the size of the choir.
However, that didn’t seriously impair my enjoyment and may
bother other listeners even less. This is a dedicated and faithful
performance of this lovely work and I’d regard it as a top
The Requiem is the only work requiring orchestral
accompaniment. The other accompanied pieces, such as the Cantique,
feature organ accompaniments. In the Cantique Marlow adopts a
nice flowing tempo, which the work needs if it is not to sound
I recently reviewed a performance of the Duruflé
motets under the composer’s direction. www.musicwe.uk.net/classrev/2004/May04/Durufle_requiem.htm
In terms of choral technique (impeccable), blend and control there
is simply no comparison between that version and this Trinity
account. The Cambridge choir wins hands down. That said, the composer
gets more bite from his French singers. Whilst by no means dismissing
the authority of the composer’s own recording, I’d
opt any time to listen to the Trinity version for sheer pleasure.
My personal favourite in the set, the exquisite Ubi Caritas, is
sung here with rapt beauty.
The Messe “Cum Jubilo” was also included
in the same Duruflé set. There it was performed in the
version with organ and orchestral accompaniment. Here there is
only an organ. The chorus (unusually comprising baritones only,
possibly a monastic allusion by Duruflé) sounds much smaller
on the Trinity recording. The Cambridge singers lack the fervour
and timbre of their French rivals but score on flexibility and
tuning. I find that the reduced, organ-only accompaniment is an
advantage because it imparts a greater sense of intimacy. Mark
Griffiths is an excellent soloist, coping well with the high tessitura
in his solo in the Gloria.
The quietly ecstatic Messiaen motet is quite
beautifully done. The singers display marvellous control and the
serene “Alleluias” near the very end are quite magical.
It was a great mistake, I think to follow this with the fairly
trite Saint-Saëns setting (for unison sopranos). In particular
the jaunty organ accompaniment comes as a jolt after the Messiaen.
Frankly, the inclusion of this piece just seems to me to be filling
space on the CD for the sake of it. Its inclusion adds nothing
to the overall recital and no one would complain of being short-changed
if the well-filled CD had just been a couple of minutes shorter.
The second CD opens with another group of Fauré
pieces. The Ave Verum is a tender, simple setting for two-part
female choir and organ. It is sung with great poise. The Salve
Regina is for solo soprano and organ. I assume the soloist is
a member of the choir but she is not credited, which is a pity
as she sings beautifully. The same singer (I think) and a colleague
are featured in Ave Maria. Both sing radiantly with flawless intonation
and they blend together exceptionally well. Both these pieces
are little gems.
The Messe Basse, for soprano solo (here unnamed)
and female choir with organ accompaniment is a revised version
of Fauré’s earlier Messe des Pêcheurs de Villerville.
The setting comprises a Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei
and is distinguished by an atmosphere of total innocence. The
Trinity performance captures the work’s beguiling simplicity
and is a delight from start to finish.
I love Berlioz’s enchanting Shepherd’s
Farewell and it is well sung here but it is sung in English, which
does seem incongruous in a programme otherwise sung in Latin or
French. The Gounod and Franck items both feature good soloists,
presumably from the choir. Some may find the tenor in the Franck
too light and obviously English. Personally, in this essentially
simple piece, I’d take that any day in preference to a “big
name” operatic tenor. The soprano in the Gounod is chaste
and pure in tone.
Finally, some superb Poulenc miniatures. The
first three items are not, perhaps, as well known as the sets
of motets. All three are very well done, though perhaps a greater
sense of unbridled joy would have been appropriate in Exultate
Deo. The Christmas motets are entirely successful. The rapt mystery
of ‘O magnum mysterium’ suits this choir to a “tee”
Only in the concluding ‘Hodie Christus natus est’
did I feel that they could have let themselves go a bit more.
The St Francis settings, for male voices only, are quite austere
and restrained. They also exhibit more harmonic astringency and
adventurousness at times than the Christmas motets. They are very
well done here with a good plangent tenor solo in the fourth setting,
‘O mes très chers frères’. To end the
selection the penitential motets are splendidly done. These are
compelling performances of compelling music. In particular the
last of the set, ‘Tristis est anima mea’ is sung with
great feeling and sense of occasion.
I’m afraid that the only blot on this release
is the usual one with this series, namely very poor documentation
- and such documentation as is provided is set in such small type
as to be virtually illegible. There are a number of errors. Mark
Griffiths’ name is given as “Park Griffiths (sic)”
and the short essay is entitled “Musique Française
a capella” which is plain nonsense given how much of the
music is actually accompanied. Most seriously, nowhere is there
any indication that we are hearing the choir of Trinity College,
Cambridge. Needless to say there are no texts or translations.
However, flaws in the documentation should not
detract from the overall appeal of this set. Without exception
the performances are of the highest order and the music itself
is exquisite. The recorded sound is very good. I have enjoyed
this set enormously and I know I’ll return to it in the
future with great pleasure. Very strongly recommended indeed.