Accentus, founded and directed by Laurence Equilbey, is one of Europe's premier choral groups. Over the last few years their CDs have been among my favorite choral recordings. This recording of Fauré's Requiem and the Cantique de Jean Racine joins that list. In fact, it's hard to imagine choral works more suited to the delicate, even ethereal sound of this group, with their impeccable tuning and gorgeous pianissimi. They are joined here by soprano Sandrine Piau whose Pie Jesu is innocent and moving, and by baritone Stéphane Degout in the 'Hostias' section of the Offertorium and in the Libera me. As well a children's chorus, Maîtrise de Paris, and a chamber-sized orchestra taken from the Orchestre National de France are heard. The Requiem exists in several different performing editions and it is not clear to me which of these is heard here. It certainly is not the version with full orchestra that Fauré's publisher insisted he provide. Rather it sounds like some version of the original form of the work. In its first version the Requiem had only five sections, with the Offertorium and Libera me added a couple of years later. If I'm not mistaken the Pie Jesu was originally sung by a treble and in this recording a female soprano is used, although it needs to be said that Piau's voice sounds very nearly like that of a boy soprano. Certainly the innocence and gentle urgency are there. Lest it seem I'm implying there is only a narrow dynamic range in this performance, let me add that the climactic moment of the Sanctus, the final 'Hosanna in excelsis!', really rings out. The same is true for the climax of the Libera me. The orchestra plays with great musicality and is particularly effective in the glorious accompanimental figure of the Agnus Dei that always haunts me for hours after hearing it. The recording was made in the basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, Paris, and the mildly resonant ambiance adds to the effective recorded sound. For me this recording will not replace, at least for sentimental reasons, the classic performance by John Rutter, the Cambridge Singers and the City of London Sinfonia Faure: Requiem and other choral music, but it comes very close to that one and is in superior sound.
Fauré wrote the Cantique the Jean Racine for his 1865 graduation from the École de Niedermeyer, the 'school of classical and religious music'. It sets Racine's translation of a Latin hymn 'Consors paterni luminis' which calls on God to look down on his children and imbue them with righteousness as they begin each new day. It is said that one can immediately recognize anything by Fauré within a few bars and even in this work written when Fauré was only twenty this is true; no one but Fauré could have written it. Equilbey's forces give us a lovely rendition of the work.
Another triumph for Accentus.