Fauré Requiem; Cantique de Jean Racine

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Fauré Requiem; Cantique de Jean Racine

  • Cantique de Jean Racine

Faure began his Requiem in 1885, under the impact of the death of his father, but the work did not take on the form in which we now know it until 15 years later. Between those dates three quite distinct versions of the score came into being; all were performed, but only the last of them has until now been published. The first consisted of five movements only, scored for solo violin (confined to 30 or so bars in the Sanctus), violas, cellos, basses, harp, timpani and organ. Four years later an Offertoire and ''Libera me'' were added (only the former was especially written for the purpose) and brass instruments were sparingly incorporated into the orchestra. Woodwind and orchestral violins were not introduced until Faure prepared the Requiem for publication in 1900. It seems likely that he only made these final modifications under pressure from his publisher: they are mostly perfunctory (flutes, clarinets and trombones are heard only in one movement apiece, the violins are silent for much of the time and most of the additions are mere doublings of what is already there) and no manuscript of them exists. It is by no means impossible that Faure gave no more than verbal instructions of how the amplifications were to be carried out; he may even have allowed someone else to do the job, as was not infrequently his practice.
The familiar 1900 score, therefore, cannot really be regarded as 'definitive'; it is a compromise, rather, between Faure's original conception and what his publisher no doubt saw as the practicalities of concert performance. It is Faure uncompromised that John Rutter has sought to restore in his edition of the seven-movement 1892 version, and his performance of it, using a chamber orchestra, a small choir and, in the ''Pie Jesu'', a soprano who could easily be mistaken for a treble (Faure's own early performances used a boy soloist) is a most convincing argument for accepting this score as more 'authentic' than the customary 1900 version.
The differences are audibly obvious, and most are no less obviously improvements. The almost omnipresent organ (John Scott's registrations are beautifully clean and transparent) now sounds more like a continuo instrument than (as can easily happen with the 1900 score) an unwelcome thickening of an already dark orchestra. The drama and impact of the horn entries is greatly intensified, both by their infrequency and by the relief in which they stand out from their background. The solitary violin in the Sanctus (playing an octave higher than in the published score, and thus two octaves above the rest of the strings) is a magically ethereal brightening of the texture. Above all, one is more aware than in any other recording I know that the sound in Faure's head when he conceived the work was not that of a conventional orchestra but the rich, dark graininess of divided violas and cellos, the radiant luminosity of the work provided not by violins or woodwind but by the voices. It is thus more unified than the later revision as well as being more intimate and answering more closely to Faure's own descriptions of it ( ''un petit Requiem . . . d'un caractere DOUX'').
Rutter's chorus is a fine one, immaculate of diction and pure of line; Stephen Varcoe's light and unforced baritone could well be just what Faure had in mind (he asked for a ''tranquil, rather cantor-like'' voice) and Caroline Ashton's absolute purity in her brief solo is most moving. The recording is excellent and I personally would now choose this above all other versions of the work. For those preferring the fuller sound of the 1900 edition, Fremaux's account must be very near the top of the list, unless you positively insist on a treble in the ''Pie Jesu'': it is weightier than Rutter's performance, of course, and more expressively pointed (it needs to be, with larger forces) but its colours are clear and sober and both soloists are good. Both use the Racine Cantique as a fill-up, Fremaux choosing Faure's own orchestration, Rutter providing one that matches the Requiem in omitting violins; both are effective, both are sung in rather anglicized French. But for the Requiem, no admirer of the work should fail to hear Rutter's version: it is a revelation of the fundamental rightness of Faure's first inspiration. His edition, by the way, is published in the USA by Hinshaw Music of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and in Britain by Oxford University Press.'

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