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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem, Op. 48 [35:35]
Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80: Suite [16:58]
Pavane, Op. 50 [5:44]
Fantaisie, Op. 79 (orch. Louis Aubert) [5:32]
Masques et Bergamasques: Suite [13:42]
Sylvia McNair (soprano), Thomas Allen (baritone), John Birch (organ), William Bennett (flute)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
rec. January 1993, St. John’s, Smith Square, London (Requiem), 1981, St. Barnabas, North Finchley, London (others)
ELOQUENCE 4824963 [77:58]

The justifiably acclaimed team of Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields rarely if ever disappoints. They have built up substantial recorded legacy that is second to none. This generous CD brings together their recordings of Fauré’s Requiem (originally issued by Philips) and a selection of the composer’s orchestral music (Argo).

The Requiem is arguably the most beautiful example of its type in the repertoire, written as a conscious reaction to the epic requiem composed by Berlioz. Fauré has given us a score of sensuous lyricism. Marriner’s interpretation is suitably rapturous, favouring slow tempi and silky, bel canto contributions from the chorus. The opening Requiem aeternum sets the tone with its smooth lines and impressive dynamic contrasts. The Sanctus gently floats on air, and the short climax for organ and brass is spine-tingling. Sylvia McNair's pure, clean approach suits the Pie Jesu nicely but I personally prefer a boy soprano here; I still hold a torch for Fremaux’s Erato recording from 1962 featuring Dennis Thilliez. In every other respect this Marriner recording is superior to the Erato issue. Libera Me is superbly done by Thomas Allen. This is a strong version of the Requiem. An atmospheric recording from St John’s adds substantially to the obvious musical merits.

The Argo orchestral collection from 1981 is self-recommending. Pelléas et Mélisande is a masterpiece of French incidental music. The four movements are to all intents and purposes a symphonic suite. Marriner really judges the longing character of the opening Prelude to perfection. The flautist William Bennett is his usual brilliant self in the famous Sicilienne.
He also takes centre stage in the Pavane, given here in the 1887 version that includes a chorus. The Fantaisie for flute and piano from 1898 was written as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire. Louis Aubert orchestrated it in 1957. It is a playfully tuneful piece with no pretentions. Yet again, the playing of Mr. Bennett and the orchestra is first-rate. The programme finishes with the charming Masques et Bergamasques. This will bring some memories back for older readers. The incredibly catchy Overture was used as the theme tune for Woman’s Hour on the radio in the 1950s. The whole suite is full of Gallic charm and wit. The orchestral recording has clarity and warmth in true Decca tradition.

This is a CD that manages to showcase Fauré’s art to a tee. As an introduction to the composer’s music for a newcomer it is ideal. For the serious collector it also has a lot to offer.

John Whitmore

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