Faur’s Requiem is voluptuous and elegiac, and incense often seems to drip from its very fabric.
At first my ears struggled to adjust to Andrew Davis‘ reading at the Cadogan Hall on Friday evening.
Methodically paced and deliberately balanced it was, and I missed a sense of heady euphoria and noticed a static approach to the flowering vocal lines that Faur provides.
But soon it became clear just how lucid this reading was. In not dwelling on momentary beauties (take the Sanctus, where the melting modulations were matched with little spontaneous orchestral bloom), Davis shaped each movement in a wide paragraph, examining the composer’s long term aspirations. We could not help but be dragged with him.
Faur divides the six movements between sombre, elegaic low string textures (generally rendered in D and its harmonic relations) and brighter, ethereal textures of the organ and the harp. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra‘s balances here were stupendously clear and the characterisation of each orchestral section was strong. To match, the Joyful Company of Singers sang with great clarity and superb diction. After a slightly reverential start, I found their sound increasingly thrilling, with the brief reference to the Dies Irae vibrant and pointed, and their tone in the culminating In Paradisum gorgeously luminous.
Soloists were well chosen. Alistair Miles is one of the most consistently excellent baritones in the concert hall and here he eased his large voice into the role, phrasing impeccably. Soprano Joanne Lunn, placed high above the platform, lacked a bottom half to her voice, but her pure sound, undefiled by vibrato, made one sit up and take note. (I still prefer a boy treble in the role.) The whole performance was unusually propulsive and hypnotically fascinating.
The first half of the concert was also well played. Oddly, I found a tear welling in my eye at the end of Ravel’s Mother Goose, here performed in its reorchestrated, completed version. The immense warmth and tenderness of the performance were what did it for me. However, there could have been a tad more drama at times. In Les entretriens de la belle et de la bte, the solo clarinet and contrabassoon argue then entwine, but here the clarinet line was submerged. Much better were the frequently delicate and responsive balances of cello, violin and viola. Ravel’s scoring is jawdropping and here that was made oh so evident.
And Delius’ operatic interlude The Walk to the Paradise Garden was a tremendous start to the concert, with heartbreaking quivers in the woodwind solos saying what a thousand words could not. All in all, it was all music making of high quality.