The CBSO’s Choruses triumph in sublime Fauré Requiem

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

Gabriel Fauré wrote that his Requiem was, “as GENTLE as I am myself”. The capital letters were his and perhaps the only time he ever, figuratively speaking, raised his voice. The ‘Dies irae’ (Day of Wrath) section is excised and with it the drama which infuses the three greatest Requiems. Out goes Verdi’s battering timpani and theatricality; the monumentality and grandiloquence of Berlioz; the existential terror of the dying Mozart. Next to these titans Fauré’s modest work might seem cosy and a little twee. There have been attempts to beef it up. Sir Colin Davis’s 1985 recording employed a Wagnerian bass-baritone direct from Bayreuth and a renowned Queen of the Night as soprano soloist. I imagine Fauré’s reaction would have been a cry of “Quelle horreur!”

The French conductor Alexandre Bloch’s approach was obvious but seldom attempted – let’s see what Fauré would have liked and do that. The result was a triumphant vindication for Fauré who wanted to focus not on the tortured soul’s “painful experience” but its “happy deliverance’. Instead of a solo soprano the beautiful balm of the ‘Pie Jesu’ was sung with limpid beauty by the CBSO Children's Chorus and Youth Chorus; simplicity and sincerity replacing artfulness, their plea wafting to the upper reaches of Symphony Hall as if to heaven. Even confirmed atheists felt their eyes moistening. This was not Bloch’s wilful attempt to be different – as in Mirga’s misguided “three trebles” Mahler fourth symphony – but Fauré’s idea. While he was organist at La Madeleine in Paris he had trained a children’s choir with this in mind. He also wanted the baritone soloist to declaim liturgically not sing operatically. At the work’s 1900 performance Fauré angrily dismissed the operatic baritone as,”execrable” without the necessary “composure and gravity”. Benjamin Appl is baritone with plenty of both, bringing a fine lieder singer’s technique to the dignified ‘Hostias’ and whose ‘Libera me’ was a plea on behalf of all humanity. This was the choruses night though – a tribute to their dedication and the superb coaching and leadership of Chorus Master Julian Wilkins. The CBSO Chorus fulfilled every demand from the hushed start of the ‘Sanctus’ to its soaring full-throated “Hosanna in excelsis”. The CBSO Youth Chorus’s voices lightened the vocal texture here and in the wafted ethereal ‘In Paradisum’. Bloch and the orchestra laid a musical foundation both warm and supple and caressed Fauré’s sinuously lovely ‘Pavane’ to open the concert.

The Dutch violinist Rosanne Philippens gave scintillating back-to-back performances of two French showpieces. There was ample snap, swagger and bite from her and the orchestra in the Spanish-influenced opening section of Saint-Saëns ‘Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso’, a soothing central meditation and then a starburst of energy for the finale. Ravel’‘Tzigane’, his tribute to Hungarian gipsy music, was – as the composer meant it to be – fiendishly difficult and outrageously showy but immensely entertaining. Philippens was riveting in the solo opening before cutting a swathe through Ravel’s thickets of stops, mordents and added bonus fingerings. The delight of the audience was well-founded.

Norman Stinchcombe

Popular posts from this blog

Some Enchanted Evenings at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

Jacquie Lawson e-card music