The Cambridge Singers, members of the City of London Sinfonia
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Gabriel Faure (1845-1924)
Requiem and Cantique De Jean Racine
"Hearing Faure's Requiem as he intended it to be performed would be a revelation to most people." - Robert Orledge, Gabriel Faure, p. 110
It is one of musical history's mischances that the Faure Requiem has in this century been known and performed only in a version with full orchestra for which Faure was very possibly not responsible; the composer's original version of the work with chamber ensemble has remained unpublished and, until this recording, unperformed since his lifetime.
Behind this neglect lies a fascinating story. Faure began work on the Requiem in 1887 purely, in his own words, "for the pleasure of it", though the death of his father in 1885 and of his mother two years later may well have lent impetus to the composition. He was 42 years of age, choirmaster at the fashionable church of the Madeleine in Paris, and gaining a growing reputation as a composer. He completed the work early in 1888 and directed the premiere on 16th January of that year; the occasion was a funeral service at the Madeleine. This 'first version' (of which the manuscript of all but the Pie Jesu survives) consisted of five movements: the Introit et Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei and In Paradisum - a personal selection of texts laying emphasis on rest and peace with no reference to the Day of Judgement. The instrumentation is restrained and mellow: divided violas and cellos, basses, harp, timpani and organ, with a solo violin in the Sanctus. The strings - probably no more than a handful at the first performance - mostly double the organ, which plays throughout like a Baroque continuo.
Faure then prepared an expanded version, first given in January 1893. This included two extra movements, the Offertoire (written in 1889) and the Libera me, both calling for baritone solo; the Libera me, dating from 1877, was originally an independent composition for baritone and organ. The instrumentation was also expanded for the 1893 performance: Faure added horn and trumpet parts to his earlier manuscript, and violins were incorporated in the In Paradisum. The trumpet parts are fragmentary and unimportant, but the horns have an essential role in the Libera me and a useful one elsewhere; their fanfare-like figure in the Sanctus is hard to imagine left out, in fact.
The third version of the Requiem - the familiar one with full orchestra - received its premiere in July 1900 at the Trocadero Palace under the conductor Taffanel; shortly afterwards Hamelle published vocal and orchestral scores (on which all subsequent editions have been based). How and why this third version came about is not clear. In 1898 Faure wrote to Hamelle promising to prepare the Requiem for publication but asking if he could delegate the piano reduction for the vocal score to someone else (his student Roger-Ducasse was entrusted with the task). No question of reorchestration was mentioned at this stage; possibly Hamelle later urged Faure to rescore the work for full orchestra because it would receive more performances as a concert work than as a liturgical Requiem. Faure was at the time burdened with teaching and administrative work and may or may not have delegated the rescoring to Roger-Ducasse, who is known to have scored more than one of Faure's works. At all events the published score of 1900 (for which the source manuscript is lost) is extraordinarily inaccurate and full of misprints, which suggests that the meticulous Faure never saw printer's proofs, at least. There are, moreover, many curious infelicities in the scoring - for example arbitrary recasting of the 1893 horn parts, downward transposition of the ethereal high violin solo in the Sanctus, alterations of string bowing and distortion of the original dynamic markings - which seem to betray an inexperienced hand. Above all, the nature of the Requiem music itself seems to call for the intimacy and clarity of a chamber ensemble rather than full symphonic forces which would swamp a choir such as the modest-sized group of boys and men at the Madeleine for whom the work was written.
The ideal Requiem version seems to me to be that of 1893. The two extra movements in it are surely worth including, and the added horn parts also seem to represent genuine second thoughts on Faure's part. At the same time the 1893 Requiem remains a liturgical work for modest forces to perform in church, which is how the composer conceived it. Performing it in this form for the first time in over 80 years was as exciting for me as seeing an old master painting stripped of cloudy varnish and shining forth in all its pristine clarity and splendour.
The Cantique de Jean Racine, one of Faure's best-loved shorter works, was written in 1865 for a competition at the Ecolc Niedermeyer, where the 20-year-old composer was studying; it won first prize. The accompaniment, originally for organ, is here scored for harp and lower strings.
- John Rutter