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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Faure: Requiem, Haydn: Missa in Tempore Belli, Durufle: Requiem

05/26/2013 1:00 pm
05/26/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Here it is the Sunday before Memorial Day, and I find that I haven't got any specifically American lyric theater music to present in commemoration of those Americans who died fighting in wars, especially the American Cival War, to which the holiday was originally dedicated. What I can offer this time around are two requiem masses for the dead, and a "Mass in Time of War". 

The Requiem of Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) is much better known today in its fully orchestrated version of 1901. The original 1893 version was scored for a chamber ensemble consisting of pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, three trombones, harp, timpani and organ. The 1893 score had to wait until the year 2009 to receive its premiere recording through the French Naïve label. Laurence Equilbey leads Accentus, the choral group she founded , together with members of the National Orchestra of France and two vocal soloists. Faure admitted that, while it is a setting of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead in Latin, his approach was quite ecumenical and as well suited to the concert hall as the church. Nor is this gloomy music to accompany the threat of a Last Judgement awaiting the dear departed. Faure's Requiem doesn't deal with death's terror. It is a great lullaby expressing confidence in a blissful eternal rest.

Next comes a quite different setting of the Latin Mass, composed during the period of the Napoleonic Wars and in the high classical vein. Joseph Haydn's Missa in Tempore Belli (1796) is one of a succession of masses that are truly symphonic in character. This particular one, no. 9 in C major, is known in English as the Mass in Time of War and in German as the Paukenmesse or "Mass with the Timpani Drums". Haydn's music for his "war mass" certainly isn't gloomy. In large part it's jubilant victory music. This Haydn mass has a considerable discography. The recording I'm drawing upon comes from a 100 CD compilation of the classical master's works issued in 2009 through the Dutch label Brilliant Classics. The release of the compilation coincided with the two hundredth anniversary of Haydn's death. I have broadcast rare recordings of Haydn's much neglected operas from this same collection. In the Brilliant Haydn Edition the Mass in Time of War occupies a single disc, number 41. Hans Gillesberger conducts the Vienna Chamber Choir and Orchestra, with four vocal soloists.

The afternoon's program is rounded out with a requiem by another French composer, Maurice Durufle (1902-86). He was primarily an organist who wrote music only very sparingly. His Requiem Op. 9 (1947) is scored for organ, orchestra, chorus and soloists. The music is based entirely upon Gregorian chant, and the mood created by the interwoven strands of plainsong is darker than Faure's Requiem. The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford is well versed in choral works of this sort. They are joined by the English Sinfonia, all the singers and players directed by Bill Ives. A 2008 CD release from Harmonia Mundi USA.