Death and taxes. Both unpleasant, both inevitable. Both highly emotional subjects. Strangely, few composers tackled the subject of taxes, but the classical music world is rich in references to death. And the quintessential musical expression of death is the requiem.
Think about it for a second or two. A great composer is inspired by death. Perhaps a person close to him has died, or perhaps he is near the end of his life and death is looming. What does he do? He writes music! But the style and theme of that music will depend on his personal feelings towards the subject matter.
The Requiem, a traditional solomn Catholic liturgy, has inspired many composers, most notably Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi and Faure. Other composers have used the term Requiem without using the traditional text, most famously Brahms' German Requiem
and Britten's War Requiem
Always, the theme is death, yet the works are all different. Each composer is influenced by his times, his personal style, and probably most importantly, his attitude towards the subject of death.
Mozart has an element of anger, not surprisingly, as he died aged 33. Verdi's Requiem
is a large-scale work with a huge orchestra and choir, and has been described as his best opera. Brahms' Requiem
is about Romantic Heroism, and Britten's describes the horror and hopelessness of War.
is unique. The anguish, loss and horrors of Death and Judgement Day are left by the wayside. Faure concentrates on the true meaning of the word "Requiem", or "rest". His Requiem
is about peaceful acceptance and release, and the music is serene, elevating, comforting.
When shopping for a recording of Faure's Requiem
, the issue is clouded by many versions of the work. Faure first wrote it in 1888, but revised it twice. In 1893, he expanded it to its current seven movements, and added brass to the orchestra, and a baritone to the soloists. This is the version recorded here. In 1900, a final, unconvincing version was performed, perhaps revised by a student rather than Faure himself. It featured a larger orchestra and new scoring but lacked the delicacy and sweetness of the 1893 version.
Any recording of this Requiem
should emphasise its unique nature. The Croydon singers are well-known for their recording of lesser-known sacred music. Their performance here is beautifully reserved, letting the music speak for itself. Listen to the Pie Jesu
where the single soprano is set against a quiet organ accompaniment.
The recording was made inside a church rather than a studio, and the acoustics sound genuine and expansive. The vocalists are polished, and the orchestra lets the music breath. The few passages of fire, especially by the horns, reach a sort of climax, but quickly die away to the true peaceful theme of the work.
This CD is coupled with lesser known choral works of Faure, similar in feel to the Requiem
, and with similar excellent performance. The Messe Basse
especially is a lovely work, simple and charming, with occasional harmonic surprises.
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Requiem and other choral works
English Chamber Orchestra
- Kyrie (6:13)
- Offertoire (8:38)
- Sanctus (3:12)
- Pie Jesu (3:57)
- Agnus Dei (5:40)
- Libera me (4:39)
- In Paradisium (3:28)
- Cantique De Jean Racine op.11 (6:05)
- Kyrie (2:06)
- Sanctus (2:03)
- Benedictus (2:20)
- Agnus Dei (2:49)
- Tantum Ergo op.65 no.2 (2:21)
- Ave Verum Op.65 no.1 (3:37)