Gabriel Fauré's Requiem is one of his most popular and frequently recorded works, but this version is probably quite different to those you have heard before. The standard full-scale performance involves a large choir and full orchestra, but the original instrumentation of this Requiem was smaller in scale, with the organ as principal accompaniment for the voices. David Hill has reduced the instrumentation to violin, cello, harp and organ, a setting that creates an atmosphere of expectation and emphasises the work’s solemn expressiveness, the strings doing their job of adding refined counter-melodies and giving added life to the timbre of the organ. The harp has its own magic, but also mixes in with the sound as a whole to further enrich and enhance Fauré's understated effects.
This all works wonderfully well, and will be something any fan of this work will enjoy and want to have as part of their collection. The singing is very fine, with soloists emerging from the Yale Schola Cantorum and doing a decent enough job. Sarah Yanovitch’s fairly operatic vibrato in the Pie Jesu may be less to your taste if you prefer the purity of a boy soloist such as that from King’s College. The choir itself is superbly unified, and the recording balances nicely between already well-matched vocal and instrumental forces. If I have any complaint then it is that the whole is a little too smooth and even. The beautiful moments are gorgeous, but so is everything else—even the impact of the climax in the Agnus Dei posing no real upheaval to the promised eternal rest of the text, nor indeed the threats of anger, disaster and sorrow of the Libera me. If you don’t mind your Fauré having a sprinkling of Hollywood polish then this is unlikely to bother you, but if you prefer a more nasal French organ sound or the full-fat value of the orchestra version then you might prefer to stick with classic recordings such as that conducted by Sir David Willcocks on EMI/Warner.
The wealth of additional material on this CD is of equal attraction to the Requiem. The humble beginnings of the Messe basse seem far away in this sophisticated performance, but the relative simplicity of its melodic shapes and its 'Frenchness' glimmers through in the airy lightness of the Benedictus. Maria, mater gratiae is a lovely little piece, as is the luminous Ave verum. The vocal works are usefully contrasted by two organ Fugues, though the organ sound isn’t particularly distinctive. Another stand-out piece is the 1894 Tantum ergo, scored for three high voices and organ, and one of those works that has a feeling of timeless permanence. This contrasts with the more operatic tenor solo with harp and organ 1890 version which seems to go for 'hit quality' without quite nailing it. The Cantique de Jean Racine is a youthful work in which the promise that would result in works such as the Requiem is very much in evidence, and is the perfect piece with which to end a programme such as this. Hyperion is to be congratulated on such a fine production, as is David Hill and his musicians.