Mélodies – Lydia, Op.4/2; Après un rêve, Op.7/1; Aubade, Op.6/1; Fleur jetée, Op.39/2; Le papillon et la fleur, Op.1/1; Adieu, Op.21/3; Le secret, Op.23/3; Au bord de l’eau, Op.8/1 [all orchestrated by John Lubbock]
Requiem, Op.48 [1900 version]
Ilona Domnich (soprano) & Johnny Herford (baritone)
Orchestra of St John’s
Recorded 24 April 2013 at St John’s, Smith Square, London
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: January 2014
CD No: OSJ ALIVE OSJCD01
Duration: 70 minutes
The mood set by the Pavane at the beginning of this Fauré recording (capturing a concert) establishes the character for much of what follows: a slightly cautious if seductive-sounding flute solo inviting the choir and orchestra to perform delicately and subtly. The liner note appositely refers to the Grecian characteristics of both the Pavane and the Requiem, and it is that refinement of form and expression which comes across in these performances.
The same is also true of the selection of Fauré’s melodies, arranged here in translucent orchestrations by John Lubbock and performed with a chamber-like clarity in these first recordings. A gentle throb underpins the most famous example, ‘Après un rêve’, solemn woodwind figures open ‘Le secret’, whilst the graceful unwinding of the soprano’s airs over the more robust accompaniments in ‘Le papillon et la fleur’ and ‘Fleur jetée’ might recall settings from Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été. As Fauré apparently intended, the songs are performed with a steady tempo, rubato used only sparingly to heighten the emotion.
A measured pace marks much of the Requiem, imbuing it with the calm and meditative disposition implied by much of the music and text, and upheld by the thoughtful contribution of the OSJ Voices. The transitions between different sections within movements might have been moulded so as to create contrast however, for instance in the move to the “Hostias” in the ‘Offertoire’, or to “Lux aeterna” in the ‘Agnus Dei’. The unyielding progress of the music makes it seem, perhaps, more like the religious work of a Gallic Bruckner. The vocal soloists fit the Requiem’s musical context slightly less well than they do in the songs. In the “Hostias” Johnny Herford could have been a touch more dramatic, even operatic, while Ilona Domnich’s fast vibrato undermines the simple, solemn plea of ‘Pie Jesu’.
The recording is attractively close and immediate but without counteracting the music’s elusive, rarefied quality. One drawback is that the organ’s staccato arpeggios gilding the celestial texture of ‘In Paradisum’ do not come over very clearly from the other end of this large building, and on the few other occasions when the instrument is heard, it sounds rather watery. Overall, however, Lubbock brings consistent finesse to the music, and though some may want a touch more ardour at times, it is better that Fauré’s music remains understated than tarnished by excess. Texts and translations are included in the excellent booklet.