Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Messe basse [9:11]
Mater, mater gratiae, Op. 47, No. 2 [2:22]
Ave Maria Op. 67, No. 2 [1:58]
Ave verum Op. 65, No. 1 [3:33]
Fugue in A minor, Op. 84, No. 3 [2:35]
Ave Maria Op. posth. [1:44]
Tantum ergo Op. 65, No. 2 [2:24]
Fugue in E minor, Op. 84, No. 6 [2:33]
Tantum ergo, Op. 44 [3:03]
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 [5:10]
Robert Bennesh (organ)
Yale Schola Cantorum/David Hill
rec. 2015, Christ Church, New Haven, USA
HYPERION CDA68209 [68:04]
Fauré’s best known work, the Requiem, went through several versions in his lifetime, generally becoming larger in each reworking. The first version, for small forces—it did not include the Libera Me—was first performed at the Madelaine in 1888. The second version, using only boys and men, was larger, and premiered at the Madelaine in 1893. Though Fauré was required by church regulations not to employ women, he made no secret of his preference for female rather than boys’ voices. The full orchestral version, for around 250 performers, was premiered in 1900. Many recent recordings have shown a preference for the smaller versions. John Rutter edited a version of the 1893 version, in 1989, though a more accurate edition was published by French scholars in 1994. There are arguments about how authentically versions of the full orchestral setting reflect Fauré’s intention, but there are indications that the composer showed a preference for larger scale forces. In 1921 he complained about a performance in which he found the orchestra too small.
Given the choices available, we might ask whether David Hill’s own arrangement, heard here, is necessary. It is a discreet rearrangement for violin, cello, harp and organ, which will give no offence and is certainly suitable for most ecclesiastical spaces. The Yale Schola Cantorum is chamber-sized (26 voices, smaller than the Madelaine choir of around 40), so the light scoring works for them. Soloists are drawn from the choir and have fine voices. As a whole, performances are good, more ecclesiastical than some, a little weightier than some British “white” performances I have heard, and the sense of devotion evident. The familiar Cantique de Jean Racine, which completes the CD, is also in Hill’s own arrangement (two each of violins, violas, cellos, and double bass, plus harp and organ), and nicely done.
But neither performance seems to me strong enough to make this recording preferred over others available. What makes this CD distinctive is the smaller pieces. Lovers of Fauré will welcome their inclusion. The Messe basse (Low Mass) was written originally for the village church of Villerville in Normandy. The final version, heard here, was for upper voices, soloist and organ. The four brief movements are Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. Again, the emphasis in this performance is devotional, and is more effective for that: kudos to the soloist, Nola Richardson, who has a solo also in the Op. 67 No. 2 Ave Maria. Special praise also for the lovely Tantum ergo Op. 65 No. 2 for trio (Nola Richardson, Sarah Yanovitch, Mindy Ella Chu) and upper voices. It is a little gem, perhaps the highlight of the recording. The second Tantum ergo is different in character. Scored for tenor soloist (the admirable Gene Stenger), five-part choir, organ and harp, it is a more operatic but contemplative account of St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymn, suitable for its use in Benediction.
Notes are informative, performances committed, recording quality high, as we would expect from Hyperion.