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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem Op.48 (1887-93) [35:34]
Pavane Op.50 (1887) [6:48]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Requiem Op.9 (1947) [37:19]
Robert Chilcott (treble), John Carol Case (baritone); John Wells (organ)
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks (Fauré)
Janet Baker (mezzo), Stephen Roberts (baritone); John Butt (organ)
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Sir Philip Ledger (Duruflé)
rec. Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge: 20 December 1967 (Fauré); Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge: October, December 1980 (Duruflé). ADD
EMI CLASSICS GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 3799942 [79:48]



I suspect there will be few serious record collectors who are unaware of either of these recordings. The 1967 King’s College recording of Fauré’s wonderfully elegant and expressive Requiem Op.48 has been around for donkey’s years, and until now was always available in the original coupling with the Pavane as given here, on EMI 764715-2. Even at mid-price the 42 minute timing of the original was compact, the only excuse being that it was a straight LP era reissue, so it was always the quality of the performance which made this recording a staple of the EMI catalogue. A sentimental attachment to such recordings will always play a part in choosing such a version over the many new and wonderful recordings on offer these days, but with that vast tract of empty disc now filled with another excellent performance, this time of the equally gorgeous Requiem Op.9 by Maurice Duruflé, there was never a better time to, if not replace, then certainly to bring in some support for your by now very elderly and well-used LP copy.
 
This recording of Fauré’s Requiem is the food equivalent of bread-and-butter pudding, or some similarly comforting comestible concoction. Warmly analogue, the sound has been well preserved through re-mastering, and while there will be arguments against the composer’s later large orchestra version against the more chamber-music original, I still find the New Philharmonia to be a light and sensitive accompanist. You might expect staunch stodginess, but to my ears, nothing could be further from the truth. Sir David Willcock’s tempi are measured, but never leaden or sentimentally mannered. John Carol Case’s solos are excellent throughout, with an ideal balance between sturdy drama and expressive line if a less than ideal balance between voice and accompaniment – the vocal solo is noticeably forward. John Chilcott’s treble in the Pie Jesu is touchingly vulnerable. The choir sing very much as one, and the balance allows for the full dynamic range to come through over the orchestra, even if you sometimes get the feeling that the voices are standing in front of the orchestral players. The status of this recording as something of a national treasure remains intact, and its standing as a reissue in this context can only be reinforced.
 
The Pavane appears here in its orchestral rather than choral version, but I wouldn’t be without my former teacher Gareth Morris’s flute solo, and any complainants can find other versions elsewhere. Ironically, Morris’s flute sounds more comfortable when singing over the entire orchestra, and there is that tooth-grinding crunch where intonation differences better first and second player on that ‘take a breath’ changeover at 1:14, but students who are intrigued by the old-fashioned English lack of vibrato should listen more closely. See? There is vibrato, but so subtle and different to what we’re used to today that it is barely audible.
 
So, on to the ‘filler’. If, as a fan of the Fauré, you’ve never heard the Duruflé Requiem, now is your big chance to have your life enhanced for the better. Easily as approachable and equal in beauty to the earlier work, Duruflé approached its composition as a modern ‘sequel’ to the Fauré, and made such a good job of it that the work almost eclipses anything else he wrote before or since. The secret lies in the skilful integration of Gregorian plainsong within a romantic approach to counterpoint and thematic development. As with Fauré’s work, there are a number of different settings floating around, and this one is purely with organ accompaniment and with an added cello solo in the Pie Jesu, here admirably played by Timothy Hugh. While recorded thirteen years later than the Fauré, this is also an analogue recording, so tape hiss honours remain about the same. The King’s College acoustic is much more resonant than that of Trinity in the Fauré, so that there is something of a dichotomy between a symphony orchestra in a more intimate acoustic, and a more intimate instrumentation in a much more vast space – which is not a criticism, just the result of placing entirely different recordings together.  
 
As you might expect, King’s College Choir is once again top of the league. The Pie Jesu is sung by Janet Baker, whose mezzo is appropriately doleful in the lower registers, and hair-raisingly expressive during the higher notes of the extended climax. Just hear how, with genuine feeling and emotion, the intonation of her voice ever so slightly rises to meet the enharmonic progression in the accompaniment between 1:34 and 1:35. When I first heard this on a radio broadcast very many years ago my jaw hit the floor, and it still brings a lump to my throat every time – a true desert island movement.
 
This should not be seen as a negative aspect to these recordings, but while I was listening one little speculative question did arise. The English choral tradition is as deeply ingrained into our musical lives as are the rings in a tree, and, impeccable and beyond reproach though these examples of the art are, I did find myself wondering what choral sound Fauré and Duruflé might actually have had in mind, and what they might have made of the supremely accurate and perfectly enunciated English vocal sounds we find here, especially in the Duruflé. I’m sure they exist, but even a quite detailed trawl of the currently available catalogue failed to find much in the way of French productions of these pieces. Never mind, mon Dieu - with this CD in your pocket or on your shelves, you won’t be bothered by such ruminative rambling. Buy it now, and keep it handy.
 
Dominy Clements
 

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