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Monday, December 15, 2008

A Wimpy Faure

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Requiem, Op. 48 (1893) [36:01]
Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 (1863-1864) [5:18]

Sandrine Piau, soprano
Stéphane Degout, baritone

Members of the National Orchestra of France
Laurence Equilbey, conductor

Recorded in the Basilica de Saint-Cothilde, Paris, France, January 2008.

NAÏVE V5137 [41:21]

Laurence Equilbey has made great progress in the last few years at improving the quality of choral singing in France. She has even started her own institute to train young singers for future careers in professional choirs. For this she is to be greatly admired, as even just ten years ago, the standards for choirs there were disappointingly low.

It is a bit disheartening then that we get a rather run of the mill performance of two war horses in this all too brief recording by Accentus and friends. Fauré’s simple and reverent Requiem mass gets performed and recorded rather often and seldom particularly well. Ms. Equilbey gets a fine tone from her chorus, but the recording seems to mask the choir’s sound a bit and we never get to hear a completely resonant production, despite the fine building in which the recording was made. There is certainly nothing wrong with the blend or intonation, but overall, the performance was rather uninspired and seemed to be approached as more of an obligation than a pleasure. Tempos are right on though, and it is a relief to hear this work stripped of the dirge-ishness that some conductors apply to what are some of the most beautifully written vocal lines in choral music.

Fine soloists, particularly baritone Stéphane Degout, whose warm rich and clear tone sails over the orchestra in the Libera me, and is achingly beautiful in the Hostias, give this performance some added bonus points. Sandrine Piau has a fine clear soprano, but her reading of the Pie Jesu is a little too thin and reedy.

The disc is sort of filled out with a nice reading of the popular Cantique de Jean Racine, the only French piece in the repertoires of many English speaking choirs!

What is left to be understood is why Naïve would issue a forty-one minute disc when there are so many other appropriate works that could have been added. Another performance of Duruflé’s Requiem or motets wouldn’t hurt anyone now would it? Because of its short duration and the above mentioned qualms, this disc is sadly relegated to the also-rans. Stick with Robert Shaw’s stunning performances of this and the Duruflé masses on Telarc if you want the best bang for your buck.

Kevin Sutton

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Brilliant Flute Playing

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)

Twelve Fantasias for Flute

Fantasia 1 in A [3:16]

Fantasia 2 in a minor [5:01]

Fantasia 3 in b minor [3:43]

Fantasia 4 in B-flat [3:19]

Fantasia 5 in C [3:53]

Fantasia 6 in D [5:59]

Fantasia 7 in D [5:02]

Fantasia 8 in e minor [3:53]

Fantasia 9 in E [5:39]

Fantasia 10 in f-sharp minor [4:49]

Fantasia 11 in G [3:27]

Fantasia 12 in g minor [5:21]

Jed Wentz, (baroque flute)

No recording dates or locations are given on the disc.


A number of composers have written works for the solo flute sans accompaniment, but very few of these pieces reach the high levels of quality and creativity that were achieved by Telemann in his twelve solo fantasias. Like most baroque instrumental pieces, these works are based on dance forms with the occasional freewheeling prelude thrown in for good measure. That Telemann was able to create music that sounds polyphonic for an instrument incapable of playing more than one note at a time is perfectly amazing.

The boldness of this music can also be a bit of a surprise. But if one comes to understand that in the seventeenth century the flute was seen as a manly instrument, capable of expressing a wide range of emotions, the vividness of these pieces makes perfect sense.

Jed Wentz certainly blows the dust off the scores as he romps through these twelve little masterpieces with enough panache and showmanship to put Liberace to shame. Almost daring in his rhythmic liberties, Wentz’ audacity turns into sheer delight very quickly. The energy with which he plays conjures up aural images of full orchestras and consorts. Slower movements almost ache with passion. Compared to Barthold Kuijken’s graceful gentility and Jean-Pierre Rampal’s phoned in performances, Wentz seems to have found the heart of these works, and dared to make them his very own.

In his charming program note, Wentz almost apologizes for his interpretations, but then turns around and says in so many words that he plays the music the way he feels it, convention be damned. Would that more early music types could shed their fear of disobeying a treatise and dare to make music from the soul.

At Brilliant Classics’ super budget price this disc is a steal. It is indeed one of the most ear-catching and imaginative performances that I have come across this year and will merit much repeated listening.