A Highly Recommendable Faure Requiem from LSO Live

FAURE REQUIEM LSO Chamber Ensemble/Nigel Short/LSO Live SACD LSO 0728 This is without doubt one of the finest sounding, and fascinating releases, that I have heard from LSO Live. The imaginatively conceived two-part programme on this SACD, featuring the superb Tenebrae choir, originally stems from performances given at St. Paul’s Cathedral during the City of London Festival in 2011. In May 2012 this same programme was re-staged in the ideal acoustic of the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, London and recorded by LSO Live. Tenebrae and their founder and director Nigel Short have made many acclaimed recordings for a variety of labels since their formation in 2001. Their extensive repertoire ranges from mediaeval chant to contemporary works by composers such as John Tavener and this new disc demonstrates the range of their capabilities to the full.
The music of J S Bach begins this programme with an unusual take on his ‘Partita for Solo Violin BWV1004’ – here played somewhat introspectively by Gordan Nickolic. This work is generally accepted to be emotionally, spiritually, and technically, the pinnacle of Bach’s writing for the instrument. Enter the German musicologist Professor Helga Thoene who suggests that the piece contains hidden references to death, and quotations from Bach’s own chorales. Unusually this Partita ends with a Ciaconna (Chaconne) that in duration exceeds the total length of the four baroque dances preceding it. This Ciaconna, Theone conjectures, is a ‘tombeau’ for the composer’s first wife Maria Barbara Bach whose early and unexpected death in 1720 must have affected him deeply . In the performance recorded here the first four movements of the violin Partita alternate with Tenebrae singing the appropriate funereal Chorales, but when the final Ciaconna is reached solo violin and chorus combine – illustrating how the aforementioned quotes from Lutheran Chorales fit with the solo instrumental line. The effect is striking and certainly most moving, whether or not you subscribe to Theone’s theories of musical cryptograms. As the D minor Partita ends the Fauré Requiem, also in the same key, begins. The version of this popular work recorded here is that from 1893 scored for the unusual combination of solo violin, two horns (this recording uses four), organ, harp,violas, cellos and double basses. Those used to the full orchestral version will be amazed at how this orchestration clarifies, to beneficial effect, the textures of a work dominated by low-register instruments and avoids the treacly sounds heard on many famous recordings of this piece. Equally, any suggestion of thin or undernourished textures will be immediately dispelled by the weighty opening organ chord. The deep pedal notes of the organ of St. Giles’ church are magnificently reproduced on this multi-channel 5.1 DSD recording, and will be relished by listeners with speakers able to reproduce these sounds in the domestic situation. The singing of the 24 members of Tenebrae in this work is simply marvellous. Their impeccable intonation, perfect diction and precision convey the impression of a much larger choir; helped no doubt by the attractive ambience of the recording venue. The two excellent soloists are both members of Tenebrae and would put many of the more starry names who have recorded this work to shame. Grace Davidson sings the ‘Pie Jesu’ with the purity and tonal quality of a boy soprano while William Gaunt delivers his solo in the ‘Libera me’ firmly and with unforced tone. The conductor Nigel Short’s pacing of the Requiem is to my ears ideal. His performance captures both the spiritual and dramatic qualities of this work in full, while the players of the London Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble provide excellent support. The Classic Sound engineers ( Jonathan Stokes and Nigel Hutchinson) show what can be achieved from a live recording made in a sympathetic acoustic. They have captured just the right amount of ambience from the venue’s acoustic yet retained the clarity of both instrumental and vocal lines. The liner notes accompanying this disc include full texts and translations for both the Bach and Fauré items as well as a detailed essay by Professor Helga Thoene entitled ‘A Secret Language – Hidden chorale quotations in J S Bach’s ‘Sei solo a Violino’ that is illustrated with copious musical examples to support her thesis. A most recommendable issue.