The usual suspects to pair with Fauré’s Requiem – Cantique de Jean Racine and Messe Basse – get more exposure than their musical quality justifies, so it is good to have this unique coupling on disc, even if, at first sight, there is no obvious logic behind it. Certainly prefacing the Fauré with Bach’s violin Partita No 2 got everyone firmly in the D minor mood for the live concert last May, while Gordan Nikolitch’s extravagantly expressive approach, oozing rubato out of every bar, established an atmosphere of late-19th-century romanticism. On top of that, peppering the movements of the Partita with various chorales gave the choir a good warm-up, even if superimposing these over the Chaconne, for all the academic justification in the booklet, comes across on disc as if soundproofing was a problem and the microphones accidentally picked up strains of a distant choir.
But with the unbroken segue into the Fauré, everything falls perfectly into place. Perhaps because there is a clear link between the two – psychological rather than musical – the performance is elevated into something quite remarkable; I have no hesitation in labelling this the very best Fauré Requiem on disc.
This may be the pared-down Rutter version of the Requiem but, given the grand spaciousness of the recorded sound and Nigel Short’s expansive approach, it is a performance of extreme richness and opulence. Short’s marvellously moulded phrases, long-drawn and exquisitely shaped, as well as his penchant for expansive crescendos (most potently displayed at ‘Lux aeterna luceat eis’), in which James Sherlock leads the way brilliantly with some breathtaking manipulation of the St Giles’ Cripplegate organ, are vital elements in elevating this performance to the sublime.
Not to be downplayed, however, is the exquisite singing of Tenebrae, the magical violin luminously hovering over the Sanctus like an angel in the clouds, instinctively warm and sympathetic orchestral playing and, above all, absolutely gorgeous singing – object lessons in understatement and poise – from both Grace Davidson and William Gaunt. In short, this is a devastatingly beautiful performance.