FAURÉ Requiem (Yale Schola Cantorum)
As if there weren’t enough versions of the Fauré Requiem around already, David Hill has made another, recorded here. Hill’s scoring is for violin, cello, organ and harp, and while the simplistic booklet notes suggest the harp is there because its ‘iconography also links it angelically to heaven’, no serious justification is given for the inclusion of the violin against Fauré’s preference for an instrumental ensemble topped by violas. As a result, Hill’s is a much lighter and thinner Requiem than usual; aspects highlighted by a recording which places the organ far back in the overall picture.
Whatever shortcomings there may be in Hill’s arrangement, his Yale choristers effectively paper over the cracks with a sound which is so smooth and slickly polished that it verges on the featureless. The ‘entirely human feeling’ Fauré put into his Requiem is all but suffocated under the thick veneer of this carefully manicured choral sound. This almost unreal level of choral perfection effectively robs the simple little Messe basse of its inherent charm and, as with the Requiem, Hill drives it along rather relentlessly.
All is not lost, however; and while there is a superb performance of the Cantique de Jean Racine – also in an arrangement by Hill, but one which works well – the real glories of the disc come with the handful of rarely heard choral miniatures which are, without exception, absolute gems. Hill’s overall approach is to produce a smooth sound rather than present significant interpretations of the music, and this is an approach that serves these shorter pieces particularly well, investing them with simple beauty rather than emotional or spiritual depth. And one can only admire the immaculately crafted choral singing from these American students.
Organist Robert Bennesh fills out the programme with a couple of fugues which, clean and fresh-faced, wear their academic inclinations lightly even if, as the booklet notes suggest, Fauré’s heart was not into writing such things.