French Sacred Choral Works

Author: 
mberry

French Sacred Choral Works

  • Requiem
  • Cantique de Jean Racine
  • (4) Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens
  • Mass 'Cum jubilo'
  • O sacrum convivium!
  • Requiem
  • Cantique de Jean Racine
  • (4) Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens
  • Mass 'Cum jubilo'
  • O sacrum convivium!

The first performance I ever heard of Faure's Requiem was in Messiaen's church La Trinite, during the obsequies of Nadia Boulanger's mother. This was a performance 'for real' and I seem to recall that it followed the 1901 orchestral edition, though how interesting to speculate on whether Nadia Boulanger, herself a pupil of Faure, was acquainted with the various stages in the evolution of the score! To date, there are three versions: the Hamelle edition of 1901, Rutter's imaginative reconstruction (1983) based on manuscript sources in the Bibliotheque Nationale, and now a new edition by J. M. Nectoux with the assistance of Roger Delage, after consulting a manuscript set of orchestral parts discovered in 1969. Marlow follows Nectoux's score, as did Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi) when it first made its startling appearance two years ago (see MEO's 1989 review). Rutter (Conifer) and Best (Hyperion) follow Rutter's version. There is no doubt that in Nectoux's reading the heightened role of the brass, the horns in particular, adds greatly to the majesty and to the dramatic impact of this great work; on the other hand, the absence of the woodwind leaves an already fairly complex texture relatively uncluttered. The present problem is one of balance: the orchestra can sound too overpowering, too menacing.
Of the four recordings Marlow's seems to me to achieve the best balance between choir and orchestra. At the opening of the Introit the orchestra is close, the basses sombre and tragic, but the choir light and ethereal, piercing the gloom. Herreweghe's opening is more dramatic, the horns' first attack almost too eager for the context, the choir distant, strangely muffled. In Marlow's Offertoire the section ''Hostias et preces'' gains in strength and dignity with the alternation between the baritone and the solo horn—a step-up from the plain organ solo in Rutter and Best—adding a touch of stern majesty to the dark colours of the divided lower strings. In the Pie Jesu Camilla Otaki's pure, fluted timbre is admirably balanced by the orchestra, but I still find Mary Seers's rendering (Best) more satisfying musically than any of the other three.
Faure's youthful success, his Cantique de Jean Racine tends to sound boring, however melodiously and elegantly expressed. As for Durufle's motets, they offer Trinity a further chance to display their impeccable technique, the high voices sounding radiant in Tota pulchra es and the full choir jubilant in Tu es Petrus. Best's singers pitch all four motets a semitone lower than Trinity, but fail, sadly, to maintain even the pitch of their choice. I relished, nonetheless, their short chant introductions, omitted by Trinity. The Messe Cum jubilo, composed by Durufle at the suggestion of M Le Guennant—that formidable old battleaxe of a Directeur of the Institut Gregorien in Paris—is a charming work written for an unusual choral group (baritones) and organ. I particularly enjoyed the Gloria, which explores different areas and possibilities of the baritone voice. This fine recital ends on a quiet note with Messiaen's slow and mysterious O sacrum convivium. Highly recommended.'

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