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A History of Requiem - Part II
Andre CAMPRA (1660–1744)
Requiem [41.18] *
Michael HAYDN (1737–1806)
Requiem in C minor (1771) [34.35]
Stephan Van Dyck (haut-contre)*
Ivan Goossens (tenor)*
Conor Biggs (bass-baritone)*
Elke Janssens (soprano)
Sandra Naze (mezzo)
Philip Defrancq (tenor)
Arnout Malfliet (bass)
Laudantes Consort/Guy Janssens
rec. 25 March 2006*, 24 June 2006, Provinciaal Museum, Begijnhofkerk, Sint-Truiden, Belgium
CYPRES CYP1651 [76.53]
Experience Classicsonline

The Laudantes Consort under Guy Janssens are now half way through their impressive project to traverse a representative selection of Requiem Masses, taking roughly one from each century. Their first volume covered Ockeghem and Lassus (see review). This volume comprises examples from Campra and Michael Haydn. There will be future volumes for Bruckner, Duruflé and Pierre Bartholomée.
 
This means that for each Requiem the group must re-invent itself to suit the work in question. On this disc the Requiems by Campra and Michael Haydn are separated by less than a hundred years but are divided by a world of differences in their performing traditions.
 
Campra’s Requiem is of uncertain date; commentators have advanced theories that place its first performance anywhere between 1695 and 1732. It is written for three soloists (haute-contre, taille and basse-taille), five part choir (dessus, haute-contre, taille, basse-taille, basse) and orchestra of flutes, strings and continuo. The piece is sung at a remarkably low pitch ( A = 392 Hz) which was evidently traditional for sacred music of this period.
 
The Laudantes Consort have gone to some trouble to play Campra’s piece at the correct pitch and with suitable instruments of the period. They have also had to consider issues of ornamentation and style. But regarding the choir they are still using women on the top two lines. The biggest difference in sound quality must surely be in the alto part. Given the low pitch, haute-contre soloist Stephan Van Dyck brings a very tenor-like quality to his part which is inevitably missing in the choir when the women sing a haute-contre part.
 
The performance is conveyed in a consistently confident, stylish, period manner which entirely convinces. Campra’s Requiem is a dignified, moving piece which requires careful concern from the performers to realise its potential. The Laudantes Consort are entirely adequate to the task and create a performance to which I will be entirely happy to return.
 
Soloists Stephan Van Dyck, Ivan Goossens and Conor Biggs contribute some lovely solos; Van Dyck and Goossens match their tone colours and timbres in an entirely graceful and appropriate way.
 
When moving from the Campra to Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor not only does the pitch jump up to A = 430 Hz, but we make a stylistic leap as well. Haydn’s Requiem was first performed in 1771 at the funeral of Archbishop Sigismund of Salzburg, Mozart’s patron. Mozart was present at the funeral and whilst we have no recorded comment from the 15 year old composer the work must have made a great effect because his own Requiem has a remarkable number of similarities, both in general tone and in detail. Haydn’s work is worth getting to know over and above the links with Mozart’s Requiem. His is deeply felt and whilst it was ostensibly written for the Archbishop’s obsequies, Haydn almost certainly started the work at the beginning of  1771 when his daughter died shortly before her first birthday.
 
The Laudantes Consort provide an entirely fitting performance. In terms of style and speed, it seems that Janssens was at some pains to distance the Haydn from the Mozart Requiem. His performance is far livelier and far more articulated than the recent performance from Robert King and The King’s Consort. Janssens takes 34 minutes for the work compared to 40 minutes from Robert King. I found King’s performance highly impressive when I first reviewed it and returning to King’s disc, I remain impressed. King opts for a larger orchestra than Janssens but with a smaller choir. King’s speeds are slower than Janssens and this, combined with the differences in the two groups’ articulations, means that King’s performance is weightier, smoother and more dignified; far closer to Mozart’s Requiem than Janssens performance.
 
Both performances are valid. The same goes for the soloists where King’s quartet provide smoothness, English reserve and dignity whereas Janssens’ quartet are more characterful. I prefer King’s soloists (Carolyn Sampson, Hilary Summers, James Gilchrist and Peter Harvey) but that is just personal preference. Many people will find them too English sounding and may well prefer Elka Janssens, Sandra Naze, Philp Defrancq and Armout Malfliet.
 
The CD booklet provides texts and translations for both works; essential as Campra and Haydn set rather different selections from the Requiem Mass. There is also a rather good series of short articles about both works and their composers along with some illuminating comments on the difficulties of realising a performance of Campra’s Requiem. The performances are stated to be ‘live recorded’ but there is no sign of an audience so I presume that this slightly curious term must mean that the pieces were recorded as live, in single takes.
 
If you are not following the Laudantes Consort’s Requiem odyssey - and you ought to be! - then you may find the combination of Campra (French high baroque) with Haydn (early Austro-German classical) rather indigestible. Don’t be put off; the two works make for an entirely absorbing disc. The engineers have also left a reasonable gap between the two so that the jump in pitch is not disturbing.
 
If asked to make a single recommendation for Haydn’s Requiem in C minor, I would go for Robert King’s recording. But this new disc from the Laudantes Consort is entirely admirable and I would still want it in my library. Not only does Guy Janssens shed new light of Haydn’s Requiem but he and his group provide an entrancing performance of Campra’s Requiem as well.
 
Robert Hugill
 

 


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