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Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)
Requiem, op. 48 (1893) [36.03]
Cantique Jean Racine (1865) [5.18]
Sandrine Piau (soprano); Stephane Degout (baritone); Luc Hery (violin); Christophe Henry (organ)
Maitrise de Paris; Accentus
Members of L’Orchestre National de France/Laurence Equilbey
rec. January 2008, Basilique Sainte Clotilde, Paris
NAÏVE V5137 [41.21]
Experience Classicsonline

The recording of Fauré’s 1893 version of the Requiem is now, thankfully, becoming relatively commonplace. There will always be a place for the larger work, with full orchestra, but we must accept that this was created at the behest of Fauré’s publisher and the orchestration may not have been by Fauré himself.

The Requiem had a long gestation. Fauré started work in 1877 and in January 1888, five movements were performed. It was only in 1889 that the final two movements, Offertoire and Libera me were added, but the Offertoire was based around a setting of the Hostias which Fauré had sketched in 1877. All this implies that Fauré had a reasonably clear view of what he wanted the work to be and that the long gestation period was not the result of difficulties in composition.

The work was first performed in full in 1893, but received its first public performance in 1894 for which performance Fauré adjusted the orchestration. This version uses chamber forces, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, harp, violas, cellos, basses and organ plus solo violin for the Sanctus.

After the premiere, though it was very popular, the work was criticised by some commentators as pagan. In an interview in 1922 Fauré seems to have agreed, arguing that pagan did not necessarily mean irreligious. At the time, Fauré’s cutting of parts of the liturgical text added to this controversy; he removed parts of the Offertoire text and did not set the Dies Irae.  All this disputation might seem strange today, when the work is so universally loved; I have taken part in quite a number of performances as part of the Roman Catholic Liturgy.

Since John Rutter’s 1984 edition of the work’s original version, scholarship has been at work and Jean-Michel Nectoux has brought out an edition taking into account a rather larger number of original sources. This new recording from the French chamber choir Accentus, under their conductor Laurence Equilbey is frustratingly vague as to whose edition of the work they are performing.

But what is not in doubt is that Equilbey and her forces have produced a finely sung and well modulated account of the work. The singers in the choir would seem to be predominantly French and the orchestral players are taken from the Orchestre Nationale de France. But I cannot say that I detected much of a French accent in the performance, such is the internationalism of performance style nowadays; even the choir’s Latin seems to be pretty close to what you’d expect from a similar English choir.

The choir’s tonal control is very fine and their phrasing is impressive. This disc contains some of the most beautiful moments in this work that I have come across, for example the hauntingly beautiful start of the Lux Aeterna. For the Sanctus and In Paradisum Equilbey adds children’s voices from the Maitrise de Paris and this helps with the wonderful transparency of the soprano line.

Orchestral contributions are similarly fine, though I must confess that I have heard darker-sounding accounts of the work. The violas are relatively bright-toned and you feel the lack of violins less on this disc than in other accounts.

The soprano solo in the Pie Jesu is well taken by Sandrine Piau, who gives us a tone which mixes boyish purity with womanly expression. Similarly baritone Stephane Degout is fine in both his solos, but I have found other accounts more thrilling and more moving.

This is not a showy performance. Its tones are generally well modulated, but gets significantly expansive of tone in the louder sections. Sadly it lacks the intensity that should go with quietness in this sort of music. There is a sort of neo-classical control surrounding the performance.

What is lacking was brought home when I listened to the accompanying Cantique Jean Racine. This has a romantic sweep which seems lacking in much of the Requiem. I think that Equilbey was aiming at a performance which emphasised the work’s liturgical dignity and spiritual force, but they do not quite achieve it.

Equilbey’s account is taken at quite a steady tempo and there were one or two moments when I would have liked a little more forward movement in the parts.

The disc is relatively short, containing only the Requiem and the Cantique Jean Racine, whereas other accounts of the work include more significant couplings; John Eliot Gardiner includes a selection of motets and Ross Pople in his recording with English Voices includes the Messe Basse.

The CD booklet includes the full texts and translations and an interesting article on the history of the work.

This is a disc which contains some fine singing and playing. It offers what is, in many ways, an admirable account of Fauré’s Requiem. But in the end it fails to tug the heart-strings and thrill the soul.

Robert Hugill

see also Review by Kevin Sutton


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