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Hyperion Records

CDA67070 - Fauré & Duruflé: Requiem

Recording details: Various dates
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: April 1998
Total duration: 77 minutes 7 seconds


'Superb' (Fanfare, USA)

Fauré & Duruflé: Requiem
Kyrie  [3'56] GreekEnglish

This CD brings together previously issued recordings from separate discs of two of the best-loved settings of the Requiem. The Requiem Mass is the solemn liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church sung to honour the departed and to ask for rest for their immortal souls (the Latin word 'requiem' is best translated as 'rest'). There have been many settings over the centuries. Fauré's is unquestionably one of the best loved and is indeed the composer's most popular work. Some of its melodies have even been used in TV commercials (for Volkswagen). Duruflé's Requiem was clearly written in homage to Fauré's serene masterpiece and exists in three versions. It is the composer's final revision of the work that is recorded here.

The Fauré recording is described as 'ethereally beautiful' in the Penguin Guide, and BBC Record Review said of the Duruflé that it has 'a heavenly, visionary effect which is amazingly satisfying'.

The two discs from which these recordings are taken remain available separately. Each contains more music by each composer (Fauré: CDA66292; Duruflé: CDA66191).

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Understandably, the subject of death has tended to inspire composers to give of their best, particularly when writing major works such as settings of the Requiem Mass—the solemn liturgy sung in the Roman Catholic Church to honour the departed, to plead for merciful consideration of their sins and to ask for rest for their immortal souls (the Latin word ‘requiem’, indeed, is best translated as ‘rest’).

There have been many settings of the Requiem text since the Gregorian plainsong version found in the Liber Usualis. Over forty are known to have been written up to the end of the sixteenth century, the most well-known ones being those by Ockeghem (the earliest surviving polyphonic setting, an earlier one by Dufay having been lost), Lassus (who wrote two), Palestrina and Victoria, whose 1605 Officium defunctorum is generally considered to be the last, and supreme, setting in the polyphonic style. In the Classical and Romantic periods many hundreds of composers set the text. Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi and Dvorák are perhaps the best known of these but the list also includes J C Bach, Michael Haydn and Leopold Mozart, as well as Cherubini (two, one being for the anniversary of the execution of Louis XVI), Paisiello, Hasse, Jommelli, Campra, Cimarosa, Meyerbeer, Liszt, Donizetti, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Suppé and Bruckner (an early and immature piece). There was even a Requiem written for Mozart by Antonio Rosetti. The best-known settings of the twentieth century are probably those by Duruflé, Ligeti, Frank Martin and John Rutter.

The title ‘Requiem’ has also been given to works dealing with the subject of death though not in fact settings of the traditional liturgical text. Instances of this are Brahms’s A German Requiem (using passages from the Bible), Britten’s War Requiem (using the traditional text interspersed with the work of English war poets) and Sinfonia da Requiem (written for orchestra), John Foulds’s A World Requiem, Hindemith’s Requiem (with words by Walt Whitman) and, from 1972, John Tavener’s Celtic Requiem (using liturgical texts, Irish poetry and children’s songs, and intended for the stage).

The style and personality of a composer, also, seems to focus particularly sharply when writing a Requiem Mass: thus Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts is a remarkable blend of simple, heartfelt tenderness and high romantic drama utilizing vast choral and orchestral forces including four brass bands and a phalanx of percussion; Verdi’s is passionate and fulsome and has been described as his ‘best opera’. Also of interest is the fact that the personality of composers is often reflected in the passages of text to which they have given particular attention, or even which they have omitted altogether. Thus—to take as examples the two best-known French settings—whereas in Berlioz’s massive work the ‘Dies irae’ (Day of Wrath) is a cataclysmic eruption of choral and orchestral force, in Fauré’s serene masterpiece this lengthy sequence appears not at all as a separate section.

Yet another reason, of course, for the high quality of many settings of the Requiem is the fact that they were called into being by the death of someone close to the composer by either blood or temperament. (It is significant that Dvorák’s Requiem, for instance, not written for any particular person or event, is not among that composer’s greatest works.) Although a few sketches were made beforehand, most of the Requiem by Fauré was composed after the death of his mother on 31 December 1887.

Gabriel Fauré was born on 12 May 1845 at Pamiers, in the département of Ariège in the south of France. At the age of nine he entered the École Niedermeyer in Paris where he trained as a church musician, receiving a thorough grounding in the plainsong and modal harmony which were to become a feature of his mature style. From the piano classes held there by Saint-Saëns he acquired a knowledge of contemporary trends in composition. He graduated in 1866 and became in turn organist of St Sulpice and choirmaster (eventually organist as well) of the church of the Madeleine. In 1896 he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatoire, but he tired of his career as organist, choirmaster and private teacher and found fulfilment only at the age of sixty when the Conservatoire made him its Director. He died in Paris on 4 November 1924 at the age of seventy-nine.

In spite of Poulenc’s waspish dismissal of Fauré’s Requiem as ‘one of the few things I hate in music’, it is indisputably the composer’s most popular work. He began to plan it in 1887 when he jotted down some random ideas in a series of pocket-books. These books reveal that the Requiem was conceived, and the first part of it written down, in C minor—a tone lower than the three separate versions which were eventually completed. There is a rather pedestrian attempt at a ‘Pie Jesu’ in A minor (it returns a little too readily and often to its key-note), but Fauré rejected this in favour of the beautiful melody in B flat major which found its way into all the three versions (1888, 1893, 1900).

Among settings of the Requiem Mass, Fauré’s is unique. It does not adhere to the time-honoured liturgical text and, as the composer saw death as a gentle release from earthly life, the horrors of the Day of Judgement are almost disregarded. The ‘Dies irae’, whose torments Verdi represented in the most vivid terms, is reduced to a brief interpolation in the ‘Libera me’, and the work is serene and contemplative, the text purposely chosen to emphasize the word ‘requiem’.

Fauré had no particular reason for writing the Requiem, but while it was in the early stages of composition his mother died and the first performance, which took place at the Madeleine on 16 January 1888, was a timely memorial. Only five movements were ready: ‘Introit and Kyrie’, ‘Sanctus’, ‘Pie Jesu’, ‘Agnus Dei’ and ‘In Paradisum’. The forces required were modest: a mixed choir (with divided tenors and basses), a treble or soprano soloist, and an orchestra comprising lower strings (violas, cellos and double basses), harp, timpani and organ. There is a single violin to play a solo in the ‘Sanctus’, and the organ part is crucial and continuous.

In 1889 Fauré completed the ‘Offertoire’ (part of which he later re-used in the ninth of his piano Preludes, Op 103) and revived a ‘Libera me’ originally written twelve years earlier as an independent piece for baritone and organ. Horns, trumpets and trombones were added to the orchestra, the horns having a particularly important role in the ‘Libera me’ and an effective fanfare in the ‘Sanctus’. A baritone soloist was now needed for both the added sections, and this seven-movement version was presented, again at the Madeleine, on 21 January 1893.

It was not until 12 July 1900 that the third, and final, version of the Requiem was performed at the Trocadéro in Paris, with woodwind added to the orchestra and a full body of violins in the ‘Sanctus’, ‘Agnus Dei’, ‘Libera me’ and ‘In Paradisum’. But the extent of Fauré’s involvement in this final version is unclear. The orchestra has become unwieldy and various liberties have been taken with the scoring, possibly by Fauré’s pupil Roger-Ducasse. It is hard to believe that a composer of such fastidious judgement would have given it his approval. The 1893 version recorded here would seem the most convincing compromise.

The work has been described by Jean Chantavoine as ‘a paradisical imagining with no trace of torment or of doubt, scarcely even of mourning’. Temperamentally, Fauré could not tackle a detailed picture of Hell in a ‘Dies irae’, or portray a terrifying scene of anguish. His primary concern was the beauty of his music. The terrors of the afterlife are hardly more than touched upon, and the untroubled mood of the final ‘In Paradisum’ differs from, say, a work like The Dream of Gerontius in the absence of any notion of Purgatory. The music of Fauré’s Requiem evokes comfort, dwelling on the fundamentally good nature present in everything.

For Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986) composition was a slow, laborious process involving constant revision and impeccable craftsmanship: during sixty years only ten works were published—one fewer than his teacher Paul Dukas, a similarly fastidious perfectionist. Unlike his friend and fellow-student Olivier Messiaen, Duruflé eschewed the avant-garde experimentation that might have resulted in a fashionable new language, choosing instead a retrospective stance, looking to plainsong for his inspiration, and to great French composers—Debussy, Ravel, Fauré and Dukas—for his models. He is known to have felt incapable of adding anything significant to the piano repertory, to have viewed the string quartet with apprehension, and to have envisaged with terror the idea of composing a song after the finished examples of Schubert, Fauré and Debussy. Instead Duruflé composed for his two favourite media, orchestra and organ (he was renowned as a virtuoso organist), and both are united in his largest and most important work, the Requiem of 1947.

Duruflé was working on a suite of organ pieces based on plainsong from the Mass for the Dead when the commission for the Requiem arrived from his publishers, Durand. The sketches already on his desk proved themselves an ideal starting point, the plainsong becoming the basis of the whole work, unifying it and breathing into it the timelessness and meditative spirituality that are its essence. The model is Fauré’s Requiem; but this is no mere imitation, rather a reworking within the structure and mood established by the older composer, born of admiration and respect. Duruflé sets largely the same texts as Fauré (although the division into movements is a little different, and he retains the ‘Benedictus’) and adopts a similarly restrained approach. Both use a baritone soloist in the ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ and ‘Libera me’, and a mezzo-soprano for the ‘Pie Jesu’. Duruflé opens the work within the same tonality as Fauré, the ‘Offertory’ with the same voices, and the ‘Pie Jesu’ in an identical fashion. The structure of the ‘Sanctus’ owes a huge debt to Fauré’s example, as do the ‘Libera me’ and ‘In Paradisum’—yet the overall effect transcends the possible limitations of such a fine model and gives us something very original.

The strength of Duruflé’s composition lies in its extraordinary fusion of disparate elements—plainsong, liturgical modality, subtle counterpoint, and the sensuous harmonies and refined scoring of Debussy, Ravel and Dukas. Duruflé’s often literal use of plainsong melody gives the work a great expressive and rhythmic freedom and results in a natural flow of both text and music. When seated within such colourful tonalities and underpinned with modal harmonies, the emotional impact is heightened, yet somehow the all-pervading tranquillity and spiritual optimism is maintained. The ‘Introit’ flows smoothly, the plainsong rendered note for note, moving into the imitative entries of the ‘Kyrie’ and its heartfelt pleas for mercy. In the ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ the text is dramatically declaimed by the choir until Saint Michael leads them into the heavenly light and assures them of the promise of peace. The ‘Sanctus’ takes the form of an instrumental moto perpetuo against which the voices are cleverly built into a climax (with orchestra) at ‘Hosanna in excelsis’, then subsiding, arch-like, to a peaceful conclusion. The ‘Pie Jesu’ is the physical and emotional centre of the work, a poignant and almost painfully beautiful setting of the plainsong for mezzo-soprano and solo cello, supported by harmonies rich in seconds and sevenths. The ‘Agnus Dei’ moves us gently onward, yet without detracting from the atmosphere left by the preceding move­ment. Duruflé weaves an expressive counter-melody around the plainsong, thus avoiding any dryness of expression without affecting the delicacy of the scoring. More imaginative touches are found in the ‘Lux aeterna’—the vocalizing of the lower voices beneath the sopranos, and the unison chanting of ‘Requiem aeternam’ over changing chords. The ‘Libera me’ brings lengthier development, and the dramatic climax of the whole work with the ‘Dies illa’; the last ‘Libera me’, like Fauré’s, is sung in unison to end the movement. The final movement, ‘In Paradisum’, is an exquisite creation; the opening chords form an ethereal mist from which the sopranos emerge, finally at peace. The sensuous chords of the full choir add to the spiritual tranquillity, and the last chord, an unresolved dominant ninth, evaporates into eternity.

Duruflé twice rescored his Requiem, and it is the so-called ‘middle version’, published in 1961, that is recorded here. It was Duruflé’s last revision of the work and involves a reduction of the full orchestral score to singers, organ and a quintet of strings, with optional parts for one harp, two or three trumpets, and two, three or four timpani (in order of priority). In his preface to this reduced score Duruflé gives the following reasons for his revisions:

In practice it is rarely possible to assemble the full orchestra, choruses and organ in a church. The alternative, the reduction for solo organ (and choir), may prove inadequate in certain parts of the Requiem where the expressive timbre of the strings is needed. This intermediate version gives scope for the organ part to be incorporated in the texture or juxtaposed with other instruments.

In many ways this is the best version of Duruflé’s Requiem, preserving as it does the intimacy of the organ-only score and also the expressive and dramatic possibilities of the full orchestral score. Duruflé’s dynamic markings were chosen with a string section of twenty-two players in mind, as he considered this size to give the optimum balance of forces. The composer’s recommendation has been followed for this recording, and the forces used are a string group of twenty-two (6-6-4-4-2), organ, harp, three trumpets and timpani. In addition, Duruflé specifies three points (in ‘Domine Jesu Christe’, ‘Libera me’ and ‘In Paradisum’) where a smaller group of sopranos is preferable, and these suggestions have also been adopted here.

Wadham Sutton © 1989

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