Faure: Requiem (CD review)

Also, Cantique de Jean Racine, Elegie, Pavane, Super flumina Babylonis. Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor; Matthias Goerne, baritone; Paavo Jarvi, Choir and Orchestre de Paris. Virgin Classics 50999 070921 2.

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.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa