Written between 1887 and 1890, Fauré’s Requiem in D minor is one his best-known works. A long career as a church organist accompanying the burial services of countless Parisians left the composer with a more philosophical attitude to death.
He described his Requiem as having ‘a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest’, and indeed, its remarkable modesty and unusual tenderness provide a stark contrast to the grandiloquent solemnity that defines so many other Requiem settings.
The omission of a ‘Dies Irae’ is telling of his attempt to do something different, and two of the final seven movements – ‘Hostias’ and ‘Libera me’ – weren’t added until 1893. A fully orchestrated version was finally published in 1901, and the debate over the ‘correct’ interpretation continues to this day.
We’ve put our heads together and come up with a definitive list of recordings…
The best recording of Fauré's Requiem
Corydon Singers/English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Best in 1987
In this modest interpretation, faithful to the 1893 edition, Matthew Best commands an immaculate performance from the Corydon Singers. Wonderful accounts of the solos from soprano Mary Seers and Michael George blend perfectly into the undemonstrative aesthetic. Fauré would have been proud.
Three other great recordings of Fauré's Requiem
The Sixteen/Academy of St Martin in the Fields, conducted by Harry Christophers in 2007
Harry Christophers uses brisk tempos to depict a sense of illumination and delight, and the deep affinity for Fauré’s elusive medium makes this perhaps the greatest rendition of the 1901 version.
Le Chapelle Royale/Ensemble Musique Oblique, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe in 1988
Harmonia Mundi HMG 501292
Arguably the most ‘authentic’ version, Herreweghe managed to procure manuscripts for an updated version of the 1983 ‘chamber’ score, which placed heavier impetus on the horns.
The use of boy trebles adds a layer of cherubic purity to the already excellent sound of Le Chapelle Royale, and soloists Agnès Mellon and Peter Kooy provide wonderful accounts of the solos. Certainly a recording not to be missed.
The Cambridge Singers/City of London Sinfonia, Conducted by John Rutter in 1984
In another return to the ‘chamber’ version, Rutter strips the score of most of its woodwind and violin parts to create a delicate texture, conducting the players at a pace similar to that of Herreweghe. Avoiding any drama or fuss, this excellent recording finds an immaculate balance between the voices and instruments.
Ample headroom is given to the singers, allowing for powerful surges that accurately depict the drama of the text, but without giving into the indulgence that Fauré so wanted to avoid.
This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of BBC Music Magazine.