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.


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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 over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine 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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa