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Faure: Requiem / Okamura, Wilson-Johnson, Beck, Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir

Faure / Okamura / Wilson-johnson / Selc
Release Date: 06/28/2011 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 98628  
Composer:  Gabriel Fauré
Performer:  David Wilson-JohnsonChiyuki OkamuraTomas Selc
Conductor:  Rolf Beck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Orchestral de ParisSchleswig-Holstein Festival Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

FAURÉ Requiem 1. Cantique de Jean Racine. Tu es Petrus. Tantum ergo Rolf Beck, cond; 1 Chiyuki Okamaru (sop); 1 David Wilson-Johnson (bar); Paul Nancekievill (org); Schleswig-Holstein Fest Ch; 1 Paris O Ens HÄNSSLER 98.628 (45:27 Text and Translation) Live: Lübeck Read more 1 7/15-16/2010; 8/17/2010

This is a live performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem from the Schleswig-Holstein Festival of northern Germany in the 1900 full-orchestra version. That version has been overshadowed since the discovery, in the early 1980s, of the 1893 version for chamber orchestra. Prior to that find, only this version was known, a version requested of Fauré by his publisher but quite likely produced by one of his students, possibly Jean Roger-Ducasse. All recordings used it, some like the classic 1962 Cluytens on EMI (and Plasson, and Muti—how many times has EMI recorded this work?) with substantial orchestras and choruses and expansive tempos, and others, closer in style to the original liturgical performances, by collegiate church choirs such as Kings College, Cambridge, under Willcocks (also EMI). Not until John Rutter produced his edition from the incomplete score of the chamber version and recorded it in 1984 did collectors get a chance to hear what was assumed to be Fauré’s original conception.

That first Cambridge Singers recording was hailed as a revelation with its flowing tempos—more in keeping with Fauré’s estimated 30–35 minute duration—lighter textures, exquisite solo violin, and touching intimacy. With that intimacy, however, came a certain loss of drama. Rutter’s comfortable performance was answered in 1988 by Herreweghe’s (Harmonia Mundi) first recording, more dramatic and using the Jean-Michel Nectoux edition of the 1893 chamber version with the extra weight of the three trombone parts Nectoux discovered with the original performance materials. Laurence Equilbey on Naïve seconded him in her recording of the same edition. Both emphasize the dynamic contrast and harmonic tension that Fauré creates to throw the more comforting sections into relief.

Given, then, a fully authentic edition of the work and expert recorded performances of it, one must wonder at the desire to record the full-orchestra version, especially with a chamber-sized orchestra. Its success is its own justification. Rolf Beck, with the Paris Orchestral Ensemble, one of France’s leading chamber orchestras, and his summer festival chorus of around 60 voices, achieves a poignant balance between angst and tranquility in a performance of great transparency and subtle detail. Frankly, this recording brings into question the whole issue of editions, suggesting that the matter was always one of scale more than of which score is used. There are differences, to be sure: The violin section, playing an octave lower, replaces the solo violin in the Sanctus, and there are other places where the viola line is doubled an octave higher. There are also some differences in the horn parts in the Libera me, but I challenge any listener to pick those additional woodwind parts from out of the organ accompaniment they duplicate. Responsiveness to the proto-Impressionist grace of Faure’s writing is certainly more germane.

So Beck is more to be chosen for this sensitivity, for the excellence of the playing, for the beauty and accuracy of the youthful choir, and for the restrained and noble work of English baritone David Wilson-Johnson than for the version he chooses to conduct. Only soprano Chiyuki Okamaru’s pronounced whiteness of tone may give any concern. Beck is less overtly dramatic than Herreweghe or Equilbey in their recordings, or the up-until-now unmentioned 2002 Herreweghe account of the 1900 score. That recording is certainly compelling, if one overlooks the Inspector Clouseau-like period pronunciation and a wheezing harmonium, for the clarity of textures the period instruments and restrained vibrato provide. Those who have a preference for the 1900 variants, but at a slightly lower voltage, can safely select this current release, which joins the various 1893 versions mentioned above, plus the Matthew Best on Hyperion and the Willcocks recording as the best in my estimation. Add the outstanding performances of the lovely Cantique de Jean Racine and the two rarely heard motets to the equation, and this becomes a most recommendable, if rather meanly timed, release.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Requiem, Op. 48 by Gabriel Fauré
Performer:  David Wilson-Johnson (Baritone), Chiyuki Okamura (Soprano)
Conductor:  Rolf Beck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Orchestral de Paris,  Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887-1890; France 
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 by Gabriel Fauré
Conductor:  Rolf Beck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Orchestral de Paris,  Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; France 
Tu es Petrus by Gabriel Fauré
Performer:  Tomas Selc (Baritone)
Conductor:  Rolf Beck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Orchestral de Paris,  Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1872; France 
Tantum Ergo in E major, Op. 65 no 2 by Gabriel Fauré
Conductor:  Rolf Beck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Orchestral de Paris,  Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; France 

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