This new arrangement for string quintet and organ was first performed on Remembrance Sunday in 2007 in the intimate setting of the choir stalls at St John’s Church, Wimbledon. By using a small number of singers, similar to the twenty or so in Fauré’s choir at the Madeleine, added to the chamber music quality of the strings, unique colours and textures are created which breathe new life into an otherwise familiar but continually evolving work.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1926) began work on his Requiem purely ‘for the pleasure of it’, although it was quite probably composed in response to the recent death of his father. The subsequent passing of his mother shortly after its first performance gives the work an added poignancy, not least since the Requiem was an evolving work which he continued to revise from its inception in 1887 until the first published version of 1900.
Although he wrote several works involving a full orchestra, his particular talent lay within the more intimate musical forms – songs, piano music and chamber music. Fauré deliberately avoided the grander kind of orchestral music, preferring instead to embrace an elegant and subtle musical language.
In its sequence of movements the Requiem departs significantly from the standard liturgical text. Fauré does not underline the terrors of the Day of Judgement, and specifically includes the response In Paradisum from the Burial Service. Consequently, the prevailing mood is one of peacefulness and serenity.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) played at various churches in Paris and from 1857 held the eminent position of organist at the Église de la Madeleine, where he was succeeded in 1877 by Gabriel Fauré. Although he is not generally associated with sacred music, Saint-Saëns’ sacred compositions are numerous and include settings of several psalms and liturgical texts, and this setting of the Ave verum corpus. The poem is a meditation on the Catholic belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Tantum ergo by Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921) is a serenely beautiful setting, and one of Séverac’s best known compositions. The words are taken from the final two verses of Pange Lingua Gloriosi by St Thomas Aquinas: ‘Therefore we, before him bending, this great Sacrament revere’.
Fauré’s Ave verum corpus is written in a style that recalls his Requiem – simple and emotional. The text, attributed to Pope Innocent VI, is a prayer for the Feast of Corpus Christi and in just five lines covers the Incarnation, the Passion, the Eucharist and the Last Judgement. The Cantique de Jean Racine is an early work, winning first prize from l’Ecole de Musique Classique et Religieuse of Paris where he was a student of Camille Saint-Saëns. Scored originally with harmonium and string quartet accompaniment, recorded here in a new arrangement for string quintet, one can hear rhythmic triplets contrasting with the steady declamation of Racine’s text.