Friday, 8 June 2018

Faure's Requiem Mass - The RNCM, Manchester

The RNCM Symphony Chorus, led by Stuart Overington, gave a performance of Gabriel Faure's setting of the Requiem Mass this early evening. Starting at 6pm it was designed to hopefully catch those leaving work and wanting a little peace and serenity before going home to family. A short, 45-minute concert offering a diversion from the manic, stressful fast-lane of life.

Faure's version of the requiem is one of the most popular and well known, and it continues to endure and delight, perhaps due to it's emotionally driven, beautifully measured, solid and lush melodic and harmonic structure, perhaps due to the simple beauty of the piece as a whole, or indeed it may be due to the fact that Faure composed only the parts of the mass which he liked and therefore so much of Faure's happiness and creative spirit is present within the tunes of this work.

This evening I deliberately decided to find the most obscure seat I could, sitting on the outer reaches of the auditorium giving me a sideways view of the stage. It was an experiment to see if this seat gave me the same aural experience as a centrally located one. I am more than happy to report that the sound quality was superb; CD quality. I didn't even mind the side-on view. 

Conductor Stuart Overington mouthing the words and continually giving dynamic pointers to the chorus throughout, controlling them as precisely as is possible whilst performing live, and the chorus sounding simply magnificent. The mass was accompanied this evening by the organ. I have only ever heard this piece sung with full orchestra before, and so to listen to the music played on the organ instead was an unusual, but surprisingly gratifying experience. The organ being capable of highlighting certain passages and motifs in a way the original instruments do not, and some of the sounds really are quite different. Very interesting. the organ this evening was played by Tom Pieczora.

The requiem also employs two soloists. A tenor and a soprano. It is the soprano who gets to sing the most famous of all the movements, the Pie Jesu. The soloists today were Daniel Hayes and Olivia Carrell To be perfectly frank, despite both of these singers having superb voices, I don't think either of them, vocally, particularly suited the timbre of voice necessary for this piece. Of course this is purely a subjective and personal viewpoint, and in no way diminishes either of the singers' talent; but for me Hayes didn't have the simple sonority and lyric quality to sound 'pure' - his voice was very 'colourful' and 'earthy'; superb for Wagnerian opera, but sounded ever so slightly overpowering and too 'prominent' a force for this requiem. One time I heard a boy treble take the soprano role in this work, and ever since I have felt that that was absolutely the correct decision. Again, Carrell's voice was stunning, but it lacked the simplicity, the purity, the naivety that the young treble's voice had, and this simpleness had an angelic quality which mirrored the words and music superbly. The soprano voice is too harsh and bombastic. Both soloists however were excellent, and of course my opinion probably counts for nothing in the long term!

Faure's requiem is a work of simple beauty. A quiet reflective start building in passion and emotion with thrilling choral sequences and plaintive solo passages to its ultimate peaceful and gentle conclusion. Wonderful.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 5/6/18

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