The Requiem mass of Gabriel Fauré is often unfairly overshadowed by other 19th century settings of the mass. The monumental works of Giuseppe Verdi and Hector Berlioz achieve moments of extreme drama by stretching the limits of soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Fauré's Requiem, in contrast, is an intimate vision of heavenly peace in the afterlife. The soaring melodic lines and compact harmonic progressions evoke profundity through beauty and simplicity.
This recording by Ed Spanjaard, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, and the Limburg Symphony Orchestra, Maastricht achieves the dramatic restraint in Fauré's music. The strings, in particular, play with both intensity and sensitivity. The Introit has a fervent trembling in the vibrato, and the violas' majestic melody in the Agnus Dei spins with a sumptuous warmth. Their superb musicianship combined with the inherent musical drama captures a hopeful longing for eternal rest.
The chorus carries most of the dramatic weight in the work. In the Introit, the chant-like intonation grows from a haunting pure unison to a full blossoming of light. The following melodic line of "Requiem aeternam" is sung by a warm, unified tenor section. Their sensitive flexibility establishes a gentle restrained optimism for eternal rest. In the "Sanctus" the sopranos equal the tenors as they exchange beautifully tapered arching lines. Both sections' clear spinning tone creates an ethereal halo. The sopranos also evoke heaven in the final movement, "In Paradisum." Again, they sing their unison solo line with a pure warm clarity. At the brief moment of terror in Fauré's work, in the "Libera me", the Netherlands Chamber Choir reaches a full open forte, singing with strength and force. Perhaps the most beautiful choral moment comes at the "Amen" at the end of the "Offertorium" with the soaring sopranos and precisely in tune a cappella singing.
The soloists also bring drama to the music. Baritone Harry Peeters sings his first entrance, "Hostias," with warm, open tone carried vibrantly through each phrase. He conveys a solid assurance that appropriate sacrifices will bring redemption for the dead. Peeters' best singing though, comes with the opening line of the "Libera me." His strength transforms into a fervent longing for peace and safety. Soprano Christiane Oelze's singing portrays the opposite dramatic mood. Her clear ringing tone in the Pie Jesu is sweet and cherubic. Her pure tone and soft expression emulates a child's plea for rest.
Included with the Requiem on this CD are several of Fauré's lesser known smaller choral works. Most notable is a late edition of the orchestral Pavane to which Fauré has set a poetic text. Also included is the beautiful anthem Cantique de Jean Racine, performed here with orchestral accompaniment. Packaged with this excellent performance of the Requiem, this recording is a wonderful collection of Fauré's choral music.