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Fauré Requiem

Fauré Requiem cover picture

Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh

Director: Matthew Owens
Organ: Simon Nieminski
Introit and Kyrie
Pie Jesu
Agnus Dei
Libera me
In Paradisum

Ave Maria

Maria, Mater Gratiae

Cantique de Jean Racine

Messe Basse
Agnus Dei

Total playing time 54m 54s

Fauré Requiem

Fauré Requiem and other sacred choral works by Gabriel Fauré

Orchestra of St Mary's Music School

Treble: Donald Thompson

Baritone: Roland Wood

Fauré Requiem

Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, for all its enduring popularity with performers and audiences alike, is an unusual creation with a long and complex history. Since the earliest surviving setting by Ockeghem in the fifteenth century, the Catholic Requiem Mass has provided a stimulating challenge for composers, and each new version has reflected the personal beliefs and creative powers of the individual composer concerned. The nineteenth century vogue was towards the grandiose and operatic, and the horror of the Last Judgement was exploited to the full in Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts (1837) and Verdi's Messa di Requiem (1874). From a criticism published in Le Figaro in 1904, it is clear that Fauré detested Berlioz's apocalyptic vision, condemning the 'thundering fanfares' of the Tuba mirum in particular. Fauré's work clearly does not belong in this category, but nor does it conform to the more conservative tradition of those settings by Saint-Sa‘ns, Bruckner and Cherubini: it stands alone in its unusual choice of texts, and in its restrained, melodious simplicity.

Fauré began work on his Requiem in 1887 'for the pleasure of it', and whilst there was no specific commission for the work, the death of his father two years earlier may well have given the forty-two year-old composer some inspiration; the subsequent death of his mother during the early stages of its composition spurred him on to complete the work during the first few days of 1888. The first performance of this work was given on 16th January of that year at a funeral in the Parisian church of La Madeleine, where Fauré was a choirmaster at the time. At this stage there were only five movements (Introit et Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei & In Paradisum), and Fauré's particular choice of texts laid emphasis on the idea of rest and peace, eschewing all references to the Day of Judgement. The instrumentation was equally understated, with a string section of violas, cellos and basses (no violins), with harp, timpani and organ. Fauré intended the work to be intimate telling the Belgian violinist Ysöye 'it is as gentle as I am myself'; he also 'sought to escape from what is thought right and proper. After all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ, I know it all by heart! I wanted to write something different.'

Whilst this version of the Requiem continued to be used at La Madeleine until the end of the nineteenth century, Fauré prepared an expanded version in 1893, adding two new movements - the Offertoire (1889) and an earlier Libera Me (1877); in these he featured a soloist, a 'quiet bass baritone, the cantor type.' The orchestration was also augmented to include horns and trombones, which dominate the Dies Irae passage of the Libera Me. The third, and most frequently performed version of Fauré's masterpiece, was the result of Fauré's publisher, Hamelle, insisting on a 'version symphonique' with full orchestra and large choir. Hamelle obviously had a good eye for business, recognising that the Requiem could easily become a popular concert work, and this is the version that has prevailed in performances ever since - a far cry from Fauré's original concept of a 'petit Requiem.'

In 1983 John Rutter, the eminent British choral composer, prepared a new edition of the 1893 version of the Requiem, retaining the Libera Me and Offertoire, and remaining faithful to the original scoring of 1888, but keeping the 1893 addition of horns and the solo violin in the Sanctus. Rutter also corrected many of the mistakes that had crept into the Hamelle editions: these were the fault of Fauré's pupil Roger-Ducasse, who prepared the vocal score and most probably undertook the 1900 reorchestration, adding the unnecessary extra woodwind and brass. With these stripped away, we hear at last the unique and sombre instrumental sonorities that Fauré originally intended.
Fauré's association with the fashionable church of La Madeleine in Paris began in the 1870s, where he was choirmaster under Théodore Dubois; he succeeded Dubois as organist in 1896 and remained there for many years, mostly because of the financial security it offered. Whilst he published nothing for the organ, he did write a number of small motets which were undoubtedly composed for use by his choir during the Mass. These include the Maria, Mater Gratiae and an Ave Maria, both for treble voices and organ.

Fauré composed the Cantique de Jean Racine in 1865 for a composition competition held by the illustrious Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris; it won first prize, despite its completion at the eleventh hour! Scored originally for chorus with harmonium and string quartet, it is typical of his quiet devotional style, with a flowing melody which also lends itself to contrapuntal imitation in the central section. Racine's poem, which dates from the seventeenth century, is a translation of hymns from the Roman Breviary. With the Requiem, it remains one of Fauré's most popular works.

The Messe Basse dates from about 1880, although not published until 1907, and is scored for treble voices and organ. Fauré omits the Gloria and Credo - sections of the Mass that give most scope for dramatic writing - concentrating instead on the Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, imbuing them with a quiet lyricism that is also to be found in his songs and some of his quieter piano works; in this respect, the writing in the Messe Basse anticipates his approach to the Requiem. In the Kyrie and Benedictus Fauré sets a solo voice against the rest of the choir, whilst in the other two movements, the treble voices are divided equally in two.

Jeremy Cull, 2001

Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh

The Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh is Scotland's premier cathedral choir, recently hailed, by The Sunday Times as 'one of the UK's finest cathedral choirs'. It is unique in Scotland, in maintaining a daily choral tradition, singing over 250 services every year. The choristers are educated at St Mary's Music School, which acts as the choir school for the cathedral, again unique in Scotland. St Mary's Cathedral became the first in the UK to offer girls scholarships to sing with the boys as trebles in 1978. The lay clerks of the choir consist of undergraduate choral scholars reading a diverse range of subjects at Edinburgh University and more experienced singers.

The choir broadcasts frequently on BBC Radio 3 and television and has made a number of highly acclaimed recordings. It has a busy schedule of concerts and, in recent years, has worked with the King's Consort, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Concert Orchestra, the Scottish Early Music Consort and gives an annual performance of Handel's Messiah with the BT Scottish Ensemble. The choir regularly works with the Orchestra of St Mary's Music School, performing the Fauré Requiem each Remembrance Sunday, an annual liturgical performance of a Bach Cantata on Advent Sunday and regular performances of orchestral masses by Mozart. It has toured extensively within recent years to France, Germany, Holland, America and Switzerland as well as a tour of English cathedrals and abbeys in 1996. Plans are in hand for tours to Hungary, Norway and the USA. During the Edinburgh International Festival, the choir is in residence, singing the daily services and broadcasting Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3. In addition it gives a number of concerts in the Festival Fringe.

Many leading composers have written for the choir including Kenneth Leighton (three works), Francis Jackson and Francis Grier. Under the present Master of the Music they have premiered a further work by Francis Jackson, works by Howard Skempton, Gabriel Jackson and works by younger generation composers. Forthcoming commissions include pieces by Richard Allain, James MacMillan, Philip Wilby and Swedish composer, Jan Sandström.

Highlights of the current season include an invitation to give a concert in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester for broadcast on Radio 3's Choirworks programme, CD recordings and giving the World Premier of Arvo Pört's Nunc dimittis, in the presence of the composer.

Matthew Owens

Matthew Owens became Organist and Master of the Music at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh in September 1999 at the age of 28. He is also Visiting Tutor in Organ Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music, Tutor in Organ Studies at St Mary's Music School and Director of the Exon Singers. Born in Manchester in 1971, he studied at Chetham's School of Music and was subsequently Organ Scholar at The Queen's College, Oxford from where he graduated with honours in music and made his recording debut as a conductor on the ASV label at the age of 21. He then studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, and in 1994 received the highest award for performance, the Professional Performance Diploma, with distinction, and won the college Bach prize. He also received a Master's Degree from the University of Manchester. In the same year he took the Associateship and Fellowship diplomas of the Royal College of Organists, winning all the major prizes in both, and was awarded the Silver Medal of The Worshipful Company of Musicians. A Countess of Munster scholarship then enabled Matthew to study with Jacques van Oortmerssen at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam in 1995, when he was also a finalist in the Royal College of Organists Performer of the Year competition. In 1996 he was appointed Sub Organist at Manchester Cathedral and was awarded the W.T. Best Memorial Scholarship by The Worshipful Company of Musicians for further studies on the organ. During his time in Manchester he broadcast twice weekly on BBC Radio 4's Daily Service, made numerous appearances on Songs of Praise and had his own columns in Organists' Review and Choir & Organ.

As an organist and harpsichordist Matthew has given recitals in France and Switzerland and throughout the UK, including festival appearances at Newbury, Oxford and Peterborough and at venues such as Westminster Cathedral, St John's Smith Square and the Fairfields Hall, Croydon. As organist to the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, he has given solo performances throughout New Zealand and Australia and was appointed Assistant Conductor of the choir in 1993, becoming Associate Conductor in 1997. As a conductor and solo organist he has premiered many works by leading composers including Richard Allain, Francis Jackson, Gabriel Jackson, Kenneth Leighton, George Lloyd, Naji Hakim, Michael Nyman, Arvo Pört, Howard Skempton and Giles Swayne.

Simon Nieminski

Simon Nieminski studied initially with Nicholas Danby at the Royal College of Music, where he gained the Associate Diploma. He was then awarded the Organ Scholarship of Pembroke College, Cambridge. After graduating with honours in music from Cambridge University, he was appointed Organ Scholar of York Minster for two years, during which time he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. He left York to become Assistant Organist of Dundee Cathedral.

After returning to London, he was appointed Assistant Director of Music at the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, in the City of London, and Organ Tutor at Kingston University. He was appointed to St Mary's Cathedral in October 1998. In addition to playing and teaching, he regularly conducted the professional choir of St Bartholomew's, and several other semi-professional choirs. He also writes reviews and articles on church and organ music, which have been published in Organists' Review and the Musical Times.

His playing engagements have taken him around the United Kingdom, as well as to Sweden, Holland, Germany, and most recently Malta and the USA. He has also taken part in live broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, Radio York and Swedish national radio, and recordings on Radio 4 and three times for the BBC television programme Songs of Praise. In May 2000 he returned to the USA to record the complete Promenades en Provence by Eugène Reuchsel for the centenary of the composer's birth, on the organ of St Louis RC Cathedral, Missouri.

Roland Wood

Roland Wood was born in Berkshire and studied at the Royal Northern College of Music with Patrick McGuigan and Robert Alderson, then at the National Opera Studio with support from the Peter Moores Foundation and English National Opera.

His operatic career began as a bass-baritone and his early roles included Silva ('Ernani') and Colline ('La Bohème') at the RNCM; Cromo ('I Giganti della Montagna') in Battignano; Luka ('The Bear') and Martino ('L'Occasione fa il Ladro') for the Walton Trust in Ischia; Zaretsky ('Onegin') for European Union Opera; Don Basilio ('Barber of Seville') at the Aix en Musique Festival. Having made the transition to baritone, recent roles include Josev Prasov in the world premiere of the award-winning music theatre piece, 'The Bridge' and The Count ('Figaro') at the RNCM and Opera Holland Park.

During 2001 he toured with Essential Scottish Opera and covered the title role in Scottish Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni' in March and April, before returning to ENO to cover Ford in 'Falstaff'. He sang twice in Poland, in Rossini's 'Petite Messe Solennelle' and Britten's 'War Requiem' He will sing Marcello for Scottish Opera in autumn 2001 and cover Nick Shadow for ENO. In 2002 he returns to Glasgow with Marcello and sings his first Escamillo for Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

Roland Wood is to be heard regularly on the concert platform: notable appearances have included Faure's Requiem in Budapest; Mozart's Requiem in Paris; L'Enfance du Christ at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Messiah in Manchester Town Hall and Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle with the Northern Sinfonia. He appeared at the 1999 Covent Garden Festival in 'Herr Mozart und Doktor Strauss' and in opera galas with the Bayerische Rundfunkorchester and the European Union Youth Orchestra in Baden-Baden.

His broadcast credits include 'live' performances on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, Channel 4 - the animation 'The Very Models' - and in Jonathan Miller's Opera Works for BBC 2.

Roland was the winner of the 1998 Webster Booth Prize and the 1999 Frederick Cox Award, and runner-up at the 1997 Clonter Opera Prize and the Blond Award for Dramatic Singing. He was also awarded Second Prize in the 2000 Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Awards and is supported by the Peter Moores Foundation.

St Mary's Music School

St Mary's Music School is Scotland's independent school for gifted young musicians. It enjoys an enviable location, surrounded by gardens in the heart of Edinburgh's West End. Since 1978 the school has educated young instrumentalists, composers and singers, enabling them to pursue their love of music, develop their potential to the full and achieve standards of performance at the highest level, while also studying their academic subjects. The 64 pupils, who enter by audition at any stage between 9 and 19, come from throughout the United Kingdom and, increasingly, from abroad.

Music is at the core of the curriculum and the school offers a prodigious array of musical opportunities. Most pupils enter the music profession, and many former pupils are now pursuing international careers.

Although there have been many changes since 1880 when the choir school opened to educate choristers for St Mary's Cathedral, St Mary's Music School continues to consolidate its reputation for excellence as Scotland's specialist music school and the Choir School of St Mary's Cathedral.

© Lammas Records 2001

Recorded in St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh 4th - 7th February 2001 by kind permission of the Provost.

Produced by Lindsay Pell
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Choir photograph by Peter Backhouse
Front cover design by Kevin Findlan