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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem Op. 48 [37:26]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphony in D Minor [37:50]
Johannette Zomer (soprano), Stephan Ganz (baritone)
La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestre de Champs-Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. 2001, Arsenal de Metz, France
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM931771 [75:47]

This is a most welcome reissue of recordings made almost twenty years ago.

Philippe Herreweghe first recorded Fauré’s Requiem during the late 1980s. That was the intimate 1893 version for chamber-sized forces. In recent years, there has been a tendency to record that – rather than the full-blown – version, so it is good to have the thoughts of a distinguished conductor on both.

The Requiem went through several changes in Fauré’s lifetime, generally becoming larger in each reworking. The 1893 edition was in fact the second version. The first – which did not include the Libera Me – employed small forces, and was first performed at the Madelaine in 1888. Though Fauré was required by church regulations not to employ women, he made no secret of his preference for female rather than boys’ voices. Recordings of the 1893 version often make the necessary substitution. The full orchestral version for around 250 performers was premiered in 1900. John Rutter edited a version of the 1893 score in 1989; a more accurate edition was published by French scholars in 1994. Probably the finest version of the 1893 Requiem is that by Nigel Short, based on the Rutter edition, and recorded on LSO Live LSO0728.

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. The Herreweghe recording uses fewer than 250 performers, with a choir of 35 and an orchestra of 71. There are gains from such a small choir, both in terms of clarity of diction and a sense of the faithful intensity of feeling, but it is not, I think, quite what Fauré had in mind, at least as the concert version. Charles Dutoit and his Montreal forces provide a weightier, more operatic sound, reinforced by highlighted soloists in Kiri te Kanawa and Sherrill Milnes (Decca 421 440-2). The Dutoit recording is very fine, even after 30 years, and worth investigating. Despite the greater weight, Dutoit is generally more brisk, in every movement except the Agnus Dei, and the sense of forward movement is telling. Herreweghe, by contrast, is more measured, more devout, and his soloists – both admirable – are more backwardly recorded, as voices seeming to emerge out of the choir. It is not a case of ranking one approach over another, but of seeing the value in the differences. There is much to learn from the use of period instruments. The gut strings and older brass sound are intrinsic to this conception of the work, as is the use of harmonium rather than organ.

The coupling is both substantial and invaluable, a change from the common Pavane and Canticle de Jean Racine. Memory plays tricks, and I have neither energy nor means to check the figures for this, but I sense that Franck’s Symphony in D minor is much less a repertory piece than it was half a century ago. If I am right, it is a pity, because this three-movement work has such treasure. Its mood is often Beethovenian: indeed, the generating motif is based on Beethoven’s Muss es sein? from String Quartet No. 16, Op. 135. What fascinates is the cyclical nature of the work, coupled with strong and memorable themes, technical innovation in the fusion of slow movement and scherzo in the second movement, as well as sheer energy and volume in the finale. Beethoven would, I suspect, have nodded his approval. Herreweghe’s performance is informed, splendidly detailed – benefiting again from period instruments – and builds steadily from a more measured beginning to the impassioned conclusion. I enjoyed it immensely, but would also not be without Klemperer’s more solidly architectural and strongly etched recording from 1966 (available as part of a box set of Klemperer’s recording of Romantic works on Warner Classics 4043092).

Overall, a fine and welcome reissue, especially in this coupling.

Michael Wilkinson

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