Saturday, January 03, 2015

Gabriel Fauré Requiem; Cantique de Jean Racine (conductor: Paavo Järvi; Choeur de l'Orchestre de Paris; Orchestre de Paris)

Charlotte Gardner

A beautifully warm, full sound which colours both timbre and interpretation.

It's a well-known but eminently repeatable piece of musical trivia that Fauré composed his Requiem, one of the most sublime works in the sacred classical canon, as a committed agnostic. Far from a deep religious calling inspiring him to put pen to paper, it was in fact his sheer boredom with his duties as organist of the Madeleine church in Paris. He confessed in 1902: "I had been playing the organ at funeral services for so long! I was completely sick of it. I wanted to do something different." Still, even with the work’s birth being so very steeped in earthly clay, it's hard not to be seduced by its transcendental beauty. In fact, part of its very charm is probably directly attributable to Fauré’s agnosticism: he went for music designed to provide comfort, rather than to make us ruminate on our own final destinations. Thanks to his omission of the traditional Dies Irae, except for a brief appearance within the Libera me, brimstone is kept to a minimum. Instead, we get the sublime In Paradisum and Pie Jesu.

Paavo Järvi's live recording packs a punch, the X-factor within its beautifully warm, full sound being a core strength that colours both timbre and interpretation and underpins even the light-textured, soprano-led In Paradisum. The vocal tones of both soloists slot into this sound world perfectly, with the casting of countertenor Philippe Jaroussky in the soprano role feeling surprisingly natural from the outset. In fact, his Pie Jesu solo steadily grows in ones consciousness to feel not just less strange than one would have imagined, but more like a stroke of unorthodox genius; his voice, whilst tender, has a strength and edge that's very different from the gossamer-light attack produced by the usual choirboy or female soloists, and he accentuates those qualities in the reprise of the main idea. Ether-reality is gone: in the place of a barely-there angel's voice is that of a very earthly flesh-and-blood comforter. The following Agnus Dei with its tenors-only opening appears to then underline what we've just heard, in its continuation of solo higher male voices. It's an interesting and enlightening listen.

Also of interest is the world première recording of Super flumina Babylonis (By the rivers of Babylon), a teenage competition entry that remained unpublished in Fauré’s lifetime. For mixed choir and orchestra, its musical interest and overall success as the disc’s closing work are largely due to the similarity of some of its musical ideas to the Requiem of 25 years later.

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