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CD Review


  • Gabriel Fauré: Messe de Requiem *
  • Charles Gounod:
  • Motets solennels #2 "Ave Verum"
  • Les Sept Paroles de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ sur la Croix
Andrew Foster-Williams, bass-baritone
Flemish Radio Choir/Hervé Niquet
* Brussels Philharmonic Soloists/Hervé Niquet
Evil Penguin Records EPRC0015
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If there is anything more snobbish that downgrading a record on account of the liner notes alone, I've not heard it. But the notes, which begin so promisingly – aside from completely ignoring the bass soloist in the credits – end with a pathetic whimper as they ignore the Gounod entirely. This is the conclusion of a five-disc journey focusing on lesser known Requiem masses and choral works, which is awesome. But when you have such an interesting coupling, elegance means nothing if you pass over your consumer. Maybe most collectors already know the Gounod well, but I doubt it. I don't, so the lack of information is distressing. I want to be able to recommend anything from a label called "Evil Penguin" with the highest praise, because that's such a cool name. Right, the music….

Everything else is so good, too! The Flemish Radio Choir refuses to see this work as a wimpy French funeral dirge, and sings as assertively and forcefully as this music will allow. The chamber scoring (which is kind of what conductor Niquet uses here; it is a mix of three extant versions) allows for an intimacy that you would imagine this work would always provide, except it so rarely does. I love the decision to use a group of children's voices for the Pie Jesu, because so many times it's either a famous soloist who doesn't sound good, or a boy soprano who isn't ready. The music moves urgently forward throughout, meaning that there's no dawdling. It sounds more like Fauré than most versions, in that it pays attention to his genuine ability to conjure a variety of moods. It still sounds very French, which is good; sometimes it sounds far too English. While the Brussels players sound somewhat like a period-instrument band at times, they play very well. This is about the singing, anyways, and it is excellent. Even if you have several recordings of this work – and I do – this fresh and often thrilling view will captivate you. When was the last time someone said that about Fauré?!

The "mystery couplings" are fun. The Ave Verum is absolutely what you would expect from a French master like Gounod. It's stunningly beautiful. It's also a cappella and hauntingly brief. Although the title is French, Gounod's Seven Last Words are in Latin. The pronunciation of the language is somewhat different than what I've been taught as a singer, nor is the diction as clear as in the Requiem. However, the setting is quite effective, with meditative music offset by some truly virtuoso passages. There's some fantastic harmony here, and the whole disc is so movingly sung and conducted by Hervé Niquet that you wish there had been more care in the way the music was presented from a marketing perspective. As a final gripe, the disc is almost impossible to remove from the book-like package without scratching it! A lot of extraneous, nonmusical nonsense bogs down an otherwise top-tier release.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman