Fauré – Requiem
J. S. Bach – Partita, Chorales & Ciaccona
Grace Davidson, soprano; William Gaunt, baritone; Gordan Nikolitch, violin
London Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble
Nigel Short, conductor
LSO Live, 2012
This recording that the London Symphony Orchestra devotes to Fauré’s Requiem and to Bach’s choral and orchestral compositions causes some perplexity, not from the achievement point of view (which can be considered absolutely successful), but for its programme, proposed on the ground of thematic affinity.
The works collected here have their guiding thread in death: Bach’s compositions are two chorales from St John and St Matthew Passions, the cantata Christ lag in Todes Banden BWV 4 and mainly the Partita no. 2 in D minor (BWV 1004) with its celebrated Ciaccona, a piece that enjoys its own fame, to the point that it was transcribed by eminent composers as Johannes Brahms (for piano) and by Ferruccio Busoni (for organ). The Partita no. 2 is only the second work of a group of six partitas and sonatas (these last composed in the style of the Italian sonata da Chiesa to represent the three main Christian festivals: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) written in 1720 and originally entitled “Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato. Libro primo”. The Ciaccona is now considered a tombeau that Bach wrote to commemorate his first wife, Barbara Maria, passed away in the same year of the composition. The second Partita, paired with the Sonata no. 2 in A minor (BWV 1003), represents death and resurrection.
There is no need of in-depth explanations to guess the meaning of Fauré’s Requiem, although it will not be superfluous to remind that he showed death «as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience» and therefore its music is a peaceful consolation and does not linger on horror and pain. Fauré started this work in 1887 for no special reason but «for the pleasure of it», but it took over twenty years for it to assume the final form.
Other links between the Partita and the Requiem are that they are written in the same key (D minor) and that both remind of a serene vision of death, but, despite the interesting connections it is not possible to avoid the impression that there is a break between the first, Bach part, and the second, featuring the Requiem, when listening to the recording. The problem is that the preponderance of the violin in the first part and especially in the thirteen minutes long Ciaccona creates a lack of balance in the album, despite some short choral interventions in the cantata and the two Passions.
This is – of course – a matter of personal taste and it is not said that others will be perplexed by this approach, especially because the interpretation of the programme is superbly carried out by the London Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Nigel Short) together with violinist Gordan Nikolitch, soprano Grace Davidson and baritone William Gaunt. The recording, made at St Giles’ Cripplegate Church in London, has a vivid, clear sound and allows to perfectly hear the reverberations of the sound of the orchestra and to distinguish the “voice” of every single instrument or group of instruments and to appreciate the accomplished violinist playing Bach’s music, particularly in the Ciaccona, and the exquisite inspiration of the Requiem, which is a true «lullaby of death», as Fauré himself described it.