Fauré – Requiem Op. 48 – Collegium Vocale and Chapelle Royale, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées (Herreweghe)

This is one of the finest Choruses I’ve ever heard. They are amazing (and I don’t often say that).

Hola/Bonjour/Hallo. In the video below is an exquisite performance from 2002, although it was just made available, of the Requiem (Version 1900) by Gabriel Fauré performed by the combined Choruses of (my favourite) the Collegium Vocale and the Chapelle Royale from Brussels. They are accompanied by their orchestra, the superb Orchestre des Champs-Élysées from Paris. The soloists are Sebastian Noack (Baryton) and Johannette Zomer (Soprano). The performance is conducted by Philippe Herreweghe — I think he would be a pleasure to work with — who is the Artistic Director and principal conductor of L’Orchestre des Champs-Élysées as well as the founder and director of the Choruses. So in other words, this is Philippe’s Orchestra and Chorus and not the way it usually works where the Chorus is a guest of the Orchestra (when the Orchestra does not have their own Symphony Chorus) with the orchestral conductor conducting the performance.

This is the best performance of this work I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard many performances of this work from very renowned Symphonic Choruses. I know the piece well, although I don’t remember ever performing it. I studied it on my own. Mi amigo/My friend was watching this performance with me and after watching part of the Introit and Kyrie he said, “Oh, they’re good!…and those sopranos are as smooth as glass.” Yes, they are. And their tenor section is one of the finest, if not the finest I’ve ever heard. They remind me of the tenor section of one of the Orchestra Choruses I sang with.

Each section (SATB = soprano, alto, tenor and bass) of the Chorus has perfect intonation. Each section sounds like one voice which is the way it’s supposed to sound with well-trained Choruses, rather than hearing individual voices or voices sticking out in each section. I’m a stickler for diction and crisp consonants — which comes from my own Orchestra Chorus experience where generally speaking the Chorus is trained to “spit the consonants” so that they are heard in the last row in the hall — but in this performance I noticed that Philippe had the Chorus use quieter consonants, which I think I would too for this particular piece. That’s why I said “generally speaking” earlier.

I have a personal story to tell regarding choral diction: One of the Orchestra Choruses I had the privilege of performing with (the superb University of Maryland Chorus) performed the Mozart Requiem in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and Antal Doráti conducting. Dr Traver, the Chorus Director, had prepared us using sparkling, crisp consonants. And the Maryland Chorus was especially known for their impeccable diction. Well, when we got with the NSO and Doráti for the orchestral rehearsal he changed our final consonants. He wanted the Italian pronunciation of the Latin text which meant quiet consonants, instead of the traditional pronunciation we were using. So for example, a crisp “t” on the end of a word became almost a “d.” I thought to myself after we made this change: The audience will not hear any of our final consonants over the NSO at this rate. They will become inaudible. So instead of singing “et” with a loud/crisp “t” on the end, we sang something that was closer to “ed.” It’s hard to put it in writing — you’d have to hear what I’m talking about — but the final consonant for “et” was closer to a “d” than a “t” or really somewhere in between the two. After the performance, un amigo/a friend of mine from one of the other Orchestra Choruses came to me and said, “It was a beautiful performance but I didn’t hear any final consonants, and the University of Maryland Chorus is well-known for their excellent diction/crisp consonants, but I didn’t hear any. What was up with that?” I said: ‘Yeah, I know you didn’t. That’s what I thought you would say. I don’t think anyone heard any final consonants, even the NSO musicians who were right in front of us.’ So I had to explain to him that we were using the Italian pronunciation of the Latin text per Doráti’s request and not how we had been prepared by wonderful Dr Traver. ‘So that’s why you didn’t hear what you expected to hear.’ He said: “Oh, so that’s what was going on. I thought it was odd.” In rehearsal with Doráti, I remember feeling disappointed when he made this change, but we immediately made the change for him as if we had been trained that way all along. I suspect Dr Traver didn’t like it either knowing him as I did, but there was nothing he could do about it. As I recall, we only had one performance of the Mozart. And in a sense, that was enough considering how our work had been changed from how Dr Traver had prepared us.

With the outstandingly superb Chorus in this performance below, I noticed how the Chorus rarely take their eyes off of Philippe and that also helps to achieve their stellar results. According to the credits, the score the Chorus is using is Éditions Hamelle, but I see the soloists are using Editions Peters.

In this video, intermingled between some of the movements of the Requiem are informative sections about Faure, the Requiem, as well as behind-the-scenes moments during their rehearsals which I found interesting.

Having watched/listened to their performance many times, this is the first time I have felt so emotionally moved by this piece and that’s because of Philippe Herreweghe and his Chorus and Orchestra, and soloists. Again, they are the best I’ve heard. I even like the soloists and I’m usually not big on soloists. They are also perfectly matched for this performance. Usually there’s something that’s annoying or not-quite-right with a performance such as the soloists were not my favourites, or something but I think this performance is perfect.

I have to go back to their tenor section that I mentioned earlier. Those tenors are amazing; what superb tenors! If I had a Chorus I would want my tenors to sound exactly like them. Philippe Herreweghe certainly has a special skill for selecting tenors for his Choruses, and consistently so, from their performances that I’ve heard. For those who don’t know, the tenor section is often the weakest/straining section of a Chorus. But that’s not at all the case with Herreweghe’s Choruses.

The camera work was also excellent for this performance which is increasingly rare these days when a Chorus is involved. Typically, unfortunately, a Chorus even of this caliber is treated as second or third-class musicians/lower-class (and frankly I’m sick of that thinking) even though the years of training required to be in a Chorus of this high caliber is equal to the training that any other well-trained musician receives.

Merci beaucoup to Philippe Herreweghe, his exquisite Chorus (select choristers from the larger Collegium Vocale and Chapelle Royale Choruses), the beautiful, rich playing from L’Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and the two excellent soloists for making this wonderful performance available to el mundo/the world. In these dark times, a piece like this is very fitting and helps one’s mood. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their performance. Merci beaucoup/Dank u zeer/Muchísimas gracias to them. Chau.—el barrio rosa

4 comments on “Fauré – Requiem Op. 48 – Collegium Vocale and Chapelle Royale, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées (Herreweghe)

  1. D8

    This made my morning. So peaceful and calming. Beautiful. It’s always fascinating to hear your behind-the-scenes info like the part about your experience in DC at the Kennedy Center. Thanks as always. I really enjoy your music articles and you always present the best. You know your music.

  2. Wes in Arlington

    I’ve heard the Faure Requiem a couple of times but not like this. This performance brings tears to my eyes it is so beautiful. I hear what you mean about the sopranos and tenors….. stunningly beautiful.

    Thanks for mentioning my alma mater again and the UMD Chorus and helping to keep the memories of them alive. I miss them….. Don’t we all.

Fin. The End.