FAURE: Requiem / Messe Basse (Colm Carey/ Jeremy Summerly/ Judy Lieber/ Lisa Beckley/ Nicholas Gedge/ Oxford Camerata/ Oxford Schola Cantorum) (Naxos: 8.550765)
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Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924)
Requiem, Op. 48
Louis Vierne (1870 - 1937)
Deodat de Severac (1872 - 1921)
Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924)
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11
During the last thirty years many of our most treasured choral works havebeen deliberately defamiliarized. Bach's St Matthew Passion, Handel's Messiah,and Mozart's Requiem are celebrated examples of works whose present formand performance standard would have been unrecognizable to audiences threedecades ago. As the historical performance movement has crept inevitably towardsthe music of our own century, performers have begun to reinterpret the music ofthe nineteenth century in the light of current musicological thinking.
Before John Rutter's edition of the early 19805 Faure's Requiem wasgenerally known as a concert piece for large choir and full orchestra. Theoriginal instrumentation was, however, quite different, in some performancesusing a choir of around thirty singers accompanied by four violas, four cellos,solo violin, and organ. The intimacy of the scoring was a deliberate reactionagainst Berlioz's Requiem which Faure detested because of its use ofmassed forces to emphasize the horror of purgatorial suffering. The firstperformance of the Requiem took place liturgically at the Madeleine in Paris in1888. There were at that stage only five movements; the Offertoire and Libera me(the two movements involving the Baritone soloist) were added later. In fact theLibera me had been completed as an independent work for voice and organ tenyears before; the Offertoire was the only movement to postdate the firstperformance of the Requiem. The performance presented here uses thework's original instrumentation whilst including all seven movements of thefinished Requiem. It is based upon the edition prepared by Denis Arnold in 1983for Schola Cantorum of Oxford which was subsequently performed at St Louis-des-Invalides in Paris in July 1984.
Vierne was a generation younger than Faure, but like Faure had beenassistant to the charismatic organist Charles-Marie Widor at the church of StSulpice in Paris. Vierne was soon appointed organist of the great cathedral ofNotre Dame where he died at the organ console, as had been his wish, in 1937.
The Andantino was purportedly written in a single evening as a sight-readingtest for students. Although the piece appears technically straightforward, thesubtlety and precision required of a good performance make it easy to judge anunintelligent rendition harshly. Such academicism was despised by de Severacwho forsook the traditionalism of the Paris Conservatoire within months of hisarrival there and transferred to the newly-formed Schola Cantorum. De Severacwas not attracted to musical life in Paris: he preferred the provincial life ofsouthern France. For this reason de Severac's music frequently possesses apastoral charm and Tantum ergo shows the composer at his most simple andtraditional. Like Faure and Vierne, de Severac's formidable ability as animproviser meant that much of his most inspirational music was never writtendown. While it is precisely this improvisational facility that makes the musicof Faure, Vierne, and de Severac so immediately appealing, it is easy unjustlyto resent the French tradition of organ improvisation for the loss of thosemusical gems that might otherwise have survived for posterity .
The appearance of Faure's Requiem in the 1880s, a decade during whichthe composer's most successful compositions were songs and piano pieces, can onI y be explained by the fine choral music which preceded it. The Messe basse
represents Faure at his most practical. Written in conjunction with the Frenchcomposer and organist Andre Messager (also at one time assistant to Widor at StSulpice) during a holiday in Normandy in 1881, the Messe basse wascomposed for the modest forces of a local church. A setting of the motet Osalutaris hostia and the Kyrie were Messager's contribution; theremaining movements of the Ordinary, without the Credo, were set by Faure. Whenrevising the score in 1906 Faure adapted the violin and harmonium accompanimentfor organ, at the same time excising the Gloria and replacing Messager's Kyrie
with one of his own. The final version of the Messe basse is one of thefew existing settings of the mass for female voices and organ. The youthful Cantiquede Jean Racine dates from 1865 when Faure was studying with Saint-Sa?½ns atthe Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris. The Cantique earned Faure a premier prixin composition and is a testament to the young composer's melodic genius and tohis penchant for rich textures.
This recording is an attempt to move Faure's liturgical music from theconcert hall to the church. In particular, the reconstruction ofnineteenth-century French ecclesiastical pronunciation and the restoration ofFaure's preferred phrasing are just two of the most useful elements in thesearch for the composer's intentions. To those familiar with the more expansiveversions of Faure's Requiem there will inevitably be unfamiliar texturesin this performance. However, few of Faure's romantic gestures are lost in thechamber version, and moreover, the reserved translucence of the instrumentationemphasizes the fact that the Requiem -and indeed all the choral music recordedhere - was originally designed for liturgical performance.
Schola Cantorum is Oxford University's longest-running chamber choir. It wasfounded in 1960 by the Hungarian dissident Laszlo Heltay, and over the lastthree decades many of the choir' s former members have become involved inprofessional music at the highest levels. Former singers include Emma Kirkby andJane Glover, while Andrew Parrott, Nicholas Cleobury, and Ivor Bolton are amongthe choir's former conductors. Schola Cantorum's patrons are Sir Michael Tippettand Lord Menuhin, and for specific projects the choir has worked under LeonardBernstein, Gunstav Leonhardt, Sir Colin Davis, and Sir Neville Marriner as wellas Britten, Tippett, and Stravinsky in performances of their own music, since1990 Schola Cantorum has been conducted by Jeremy Summerly under whom the choirhas released many recordings and has toured extensively, both in Britain andabroad.
The Oxford Camerata was formed by Jeremy Summerly in order to meet thegrowing demand for choral groups specializing in music from the Renaissance era.
It has since expanded its repertoire to include music from the medieval periodto the present day, using instrumentalists where necessary. The Camerata hasmade several recordings for Naxos, and future plans include discs of music byHildegard of Bingen, Dufay and Tye.
Jeremy Summerly studied Music at New College, Oxford from where he graduatedwith First Class Honours in 1982. For the next seven years he worked for BBCRadio and it was during this time that he founded the Oxford Camerata andundertook postgraduate research at King's College, London. In 1989 he became alecturer at the Royal Academy of Music and in the following year he wasappointed conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford. In 1991 he signed a long-termcontract with Naxos to record a variety of music with Schola Cantorum of Oxfordand the Oxford Camerata.