Thursday, February 14, 2008

Foraying into Faure

. . . and, once again, you get to witness the spectacle of a slightly shame-faced blogger returning to regular writing after being otherwise engaged for a week or so. Normal people probably think it's slightly bizarre that I feel such an obligation to write on this thing, but anyone who blogs understands the strange guilt that comes after falling behind on updating the thing. Blogs are like small children; if you leave them alone for long enough, you can almost hear them screaming "Feed me! Feed me!" And, like children, it is sometimes good for their character to let them suffer for a while, but you eventually have to succumb to their pleas or Children's Aid will come and take you away.

My life has been absorbed with the sort of time-consuming work that is at once overwhelmingly difficult to get finished and totally uninteresting. Must be mid-February! However, one pleasant change has been preparing for a performance of the Faure Requiem, which I'm accompanying; I've admired the piece for years but have never played any of it until now. Capturing the right orchestral sound is particularly difficult on the organ, and where Faure would have simply added a few more instruments to the texture I'm scrambling to wedge the swell box open with one foot and press a piston or two with my thumbs.

Here's King's College, Cambridge, in a 1980s performance of the Pie Jesu and Agnus Dei of the Requiem. The Agnus is by far the most challenging movement in the Mass to play well on the organ; constant dynamic changes, some of them extremely abrupt, but still retaining a sense of flow which is easily lost on the organ. It's interesting, too, to hear the famous soprano solo of the Pie Jesu done by a boy soprano. It's a lovely, pure sound, but in my opinion it does a disservice to the music. Like the corresponding movement of Durufle's Requiem, this is a "lullaby of death", and the voice of an adult, female soprano adds a layer of nuance that a boy soprano can't capture. In general, I find the English cathedral sound distorts French music a bit, and I'd rather hear an North American choir have a go at it if an authentic French ensemble isn't an option. But then, what do I know.

If none of the above interests you in the Faure recording I linked to, the video is also highly enjoyable for the 1980s hairdos and enormous eyeglass frames.


SadOatcakes said...

Faure's Requiem is gorgeous (must like everything else he wrote, as far as I can tell). I had a chance to hear it performed a few years ago by one of the other campus choirs. It was lovely although I do remember that the organ console was quite far from the pipes, and so there was a lot of noisy clickage happening. But otherwise all was wonderful. A female soprano sang the solo -- my friend Victoria, who has a cathedral in her mouth.

Last year we sang "Cantique de Jean Racine" as part of our French programme. Do you know it?

Osbert Parsley said...

"Cantique de Jean Racine" is terrific - it's wildly popular with arrangers, who have mutilated it in about ten thousand different ways. Case in point: my brother played it as a flute choir piece. Guh?

The standard edition of the "Cantique" is prepared by John Rutter and so Rutter's name is at the top of the music in huge letters; Faure's is in slightly smaller letters further down the page. I've met people that were actually convinced the piece was written by Rutter.

SadOatcakes said...

I'm pretty sure that we used Faure's original version of the Cantique. A concert later, though, we sang a Rutter arrangement of "Ferleigh Uns Frieden" by Mendelssohn... but it was still okay.