Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Messe de Requiem, Op. 48 (1900) [34:50]
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 (1866) [4:53]
Élegie, Op. 24, for cello and orchestra (1895) [6:29]
Pavane, Op. 50 (1888) [5:39]
Super flumina Babylonis (1863) [9:57]
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor), Matthias Goerne (baritone), Eric Picard (cello)
Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Paris/Paavo Järvi
rec. 8-13 November 2011, Salle Pleyel, Paris. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 0709212 [61:48]

Gabriel Fauré described himself as something of an agnostic. This lack of religious conviction did not prevent him from holding a series of positions as a church musician, the last at the Madeleine in Paris. While there Fauré became tired of playing other people’s music, and decided that he would write something himself. The eventual result was the Requiem Mass. The Requiem is gentle and consoling in mood, quite unlike the theatrical and operatic Verdi Requiem. Its character is reinforced by the unusual scoring, in which the top string line is taken by violas - with the exception of a violin solo in the Sanctus. Fauré’s mastery of writing for the human voice combines with his modal harmonies to create one of his most satisfying major works. His Requiem treats the universal human experience with dignity and intimacy.

This Requiem, together with the other works on the disc, is taken from live performances given in the Salle Pleyel - according to the liner-notes, about a fortnight ago! Järvi chooses a deliberate tempo for the Introit, which tests the choir’s breath control. His phrasing is quite moulded. Together with the dry acoustic and the speed this gives an overall impression of everything being throttled back. The tension in the Offertorium sags a little until the cello phrase which introduces the baritone solo. This is eloquently performed with lustrous tone by Matthias Goerne. The sopranos don’t quite middle their high note in the subsequent section, although they recover; such are the hazards of live performances. Their entry in the Sanctus is chaste, and their exchanges with the baritones are beautifully done. The solo in the Pie Jesu is carefully built by Philippe Jaroussky; he sings it movingly, although his tone gets a bit thin at times. In the Agnus Dei, the downwards arpeggio in the cellos which plunges the music into the minor is played legato. I feel it is more effective played with more detached phrasing. Goerne sings beautifully again in the Libera me. Järvi injects a welcome touch of drama into the mid-section. I admired the sopranos’ soaring line in the finale, but their diction is quite mushy, which is a fault of the choir throughout.

On playing my old set with the Choir of Kings College, the New Philharmonia and David Willcocks, I was surprised at how much closer this was recorded, something that assists the diction of the choir. Their sound is also greatly enhanced by a much more reverberant acoustic, in this case that of the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge. Overall the Willcocks performance feels more engaged. Järvi takes a cooler approach - although this is a legitimate view of the work - and he has two first-rate soloists. The top lines in the choir do not have the fullness of sound of some mixed ensembles, but their rather “white” tone has a purity that suits the work.

The brief Cantique de Jean Racine is for mixed choir and orchestra; its being assigned Op. 11 is slightly misleading, as Fauré reserved his first 10 numbers for early works that he might want to revive. Järvi favours the orchestra over the choir in the balance, something not helped by the choir’s diction, which is again indistinct. The Elegy for cello and orchestra is a little out of place in this collection of Fauré’s choral works, but it is well played by Eric Picard who is Principal with the Orchestre de Paris.

The Pavane is a setting of a text by Robert de Montesquieu, and features one of Fauré’s most languorous melodies. This is elaborated with great skill, and the orchestration and choral writing combine to make this one of his miniature masterpieces. The performance features some delicate wind playing, and is very well paced. The Willcocks/Kings recording also features the orchestral version of this work, but it is interesting to hear the full arrangement as given here.

Super flumina Babylonis is one of Fauré’s earliest works, and shows his developing ability in writing for choir, soloists and orchestra. The mid-section is a bit four-square, with rather silly “parp-parp” horn writing. It is really a work of interest to Fauré fanatics, but the performance - with different vocal soloists than the Requiem - gives a good account of it.

These shorter pieces come off rather better than the Requiem, in which Järvi does not always sound very interested. This work does contain some very good things, however, particularly from the soloists, and certainly never falls below an acceptable level.

The liner-notes are interesting and contain the full texts of all the works - albeit not in the order in which they appear on the disc. Overall this disc offers a convenient and well performed compilation of Fauré’s choral music.

Guy Aron

This Fauré Requiem is rather a mixed bag, but the soloists lift its level, and the shorter choral works are very successful.