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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem (1889 version, ed. Marc Rigaudière) [27:59]
Requiem: Offertoire (1893 version, ed. John Rutter) [8:05]
Cantique de Jean Racine (1865) [5:44]
Messe Basse (1881) [9:45]
Gerald Finley (baritone); Tom Pickard (treble); Douglas Tang, Tom Etheridge
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Stephen Cleobury
rec. 9-14 January 2014, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, UK
Original texts and English translations included

The genesis of this version of the Fauré Requiem has been discussed at length by John Quinn in his review of the disc. I would point out only that the date given for the work’s first performance, in its earliest manifestation, was 16 January 1888 vice 1884. The erroneous date is from the English translation of Marc Rigaudière’s detailed notes accompanying the disc, but not in the original French. I will concentrate only on the performance and recording.

Immediately one is startled by the entrance of the orchestra and organ at the work’s beginning, for this is not the gentle, contemplative work that one may be used to from earlier recordings. Part of this is due no doubt to the close recording and also to the leaner sonority of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and its powerful brass and organ. There is nothing wrong with the approach and it could be seen as a corrective to versions that tend to sentimentalize the popular requiem.

The singing of the King’s College Choir is unexceptionable as one would expect and likewise both soloists are excellent. Gerald Finley leaves nothing to be desired in the Offertoire or Libera me movements. His voice is strong and full, but warm, without being in any way “operatic”. Likewise Tom Pickard captures the purity and innocence of the Pie Jesu perfectly, once one gets used to his odd-sounding vowels.

There is one place in the orchestral part that baffles me, however. In the Libera me at 1:50 just before the Dies illa, dies irae the brass play repeated notes introducing this section. In this version, or on this recording, it sounds as though either some of the brass are repeating these more than usual or are coming in late. It could also be an editing glitch, or perhaps the later versions of the Requiem removed some extra notes. In any case, this place in the familiar editions is more convincing than what is heard here.

Although I find much to praise in this performance of the 1889 Requiem, I have gone back to two others that I have known over the years. I still have a real fondness for John Rutter’s recording with the Cambridge Singers and City of London Sinfonia of his edition of 1893. The performance feels more intimate than Cleobury’s, and Rutter’s soloists are fully equal to those on this CD. Caroline Ashton sings with a pure, white tone that is beguiling and Stephen Varcoe is every bit as good as Finley. I really don’t see the advantage of the 1889 version over that of 1893, as I find the truncated Offertoire not fully satisfying. One can always programme the Rutter version when listening, since it is included separately here. The other recording I used for comparison is of the fuller orchestra version performed by Robert Shaw and his Atlanta Symphony and Chorus. I have always assumed that Shaw used the 1900 published edition, though the notes with that disc make reference to the Rutter edition. At least it sounds like the version with full orchestra and a larger chorus. It is a very good account of its type and recorded at a greater distance than Cleobury’s here. The soloists there are Judith Blegen and James Morris. Even with their heavier voices — and this is only alongside Rutter’s and Cleobury’s soloists — they acquit themselves well and are not too operatic.

This new CD offers rather short measure, but has two valuable fillers in the popular Cantique de Jean Racine and the less well-known Messe Basse. It is good to have the former in its original version with organ and so beautifully performed as it is here by the choir. Likewise, the boys are radiant in the Messe Basse with special mention due to the soloists, Joshua Curtis in the Kyrie and Adam Banwell in the Benedictus.

The recording, which I have heard only in stereo, is generally excellent. At times when the choir is singing full out, the sound can be on the grainy side. This may have to do with the close recording more than anything else. I haven’t noticed this before in other recordings from King’s. Overall, I have had much pleasure from these performances and will surely return to them even if that of the Requiem does not displace other versions in my affection.

Leslie Wright
Previous reviews: John Quinn ~~ Gwyn Parry-Jones