Faure: Requiem (CD review)
Another Requiem? The public seems to love Requiems, which, considering they're masses for the dead, may seem a little odd until you recognize that the best musical settings for the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass are among the greatest music created. No, I'm not just talking about Mozart's or Berlioz's or Brahms's or Verdi's famous Requiems, which are somewhat dark, solemn, and heavy as befitting the occasion, but Faure's Requiem, which in comparison seems almost like a fairy tale. It's always fascinating to hear a new recording, a new interpretation, of it, like this one from Maestro Paavo Jarvi and the Choir and Orchestre de Paris.
Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) remarked of his work, "It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death, and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above, rather than as a painful experience. My Requiem was composed...for pleasure." For this reason, Faure's Requiem has become one of the most celebrated settings of the mass, perhaps almost as famous as those mentioned above.
Anyway, after initially writing the Messe de Requiem in D minor for soprano, baritone, mixed choir, organ, and orchestra, Op. 48, in 1888 using a chamber orchestra and small choir, Faure, at the urging of his publisher, had second thoughts and revamped it in 1898-1900 for full orchestra. He apparently was happy with that arrangement for the rest of his days. So that's the way folks played it until the 1980's, when British composer, conductor, editor, arranger, and all-around musicologist John Rutter found Faure's original manuscript for chamber orchestra, which Rutter himself and several other conductors have played and recorded. Still, it's the lineup for full orchestra and chorus that most people probably know best, and that's the one Jarvi and his forces perform here.
Using the traditional arrangement of the work, Jarvi takes a fairly straightforward approach to the score, never rushing anything, and in the process sounding a tad old-fashioned, which I count an entirely good thing. He does bring out some intense dynamic contrasts, though, the choir sometimes falling into such a quiet hush, it will tempt you to turn up the volume. Resist.
Baritone Matthias Goerne has a voice like rich honey, a voice that flows over the listener in golden tones. In the soprano part, we hear countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who does a beautifully commendable job. Faure meant for his Requiem to be placid and loving, and in this regard Jarvi and company succeed nicely. "It is as gentle as I am myself," the composer once commented. Maybe it's this quality of gentleness that has sold it to audiences over the years, and certainly it's the quality Jarvi exploits to the fullest.
The Requiem concludes in a glow of fairy dust, and this magical ending Jarvi also accomplishes successfully. It's a lovely production all the way around.
Because the Requiem is brief, a little over half an hour, the disc offers the four short choral couplings noted above. These come off well, too, with the Pavane especially light and airy.
Virgin recorded the performances live at the Salle Pleyel, Paris, in 2011. The sound is fairly close up on the orchestra, with the choir slightly recessed. There is adequate detailing, although it is a tad thick and soft overall, with a big left-to-right stereo spread and abundant ambient bloom without too much reverberation. While the orchestral sound is also a touch one-dimensional, perhaps because of the close miking, it is, fortunately, not at all hard or edgy.
Finally, I'm happy to report that the Virgin producer and engineers spared us any applause, so the disc maintains to the end the meditative mood of the music.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.