In music, as in life and literature, it is the evil principle that most often attracts us, while the meditations of poet or composer about eschatological mysteries leave us cold; drama moves us.
But drama is only drama when we believe there to be an evil principle in conflict with something else. Consequently I confess without shame to a disappointment with the Philharmonic Society’s rendering of the Fauré Requiem on this score, but only on this score.
The programme described the work as “une berceuse de la Mort,” and so was the performance. The conductor, Mr Leppard, took every movement at a very just and dignified pace, the orchestra played sumptuously, and the chorus sang excellently. No better picture could have been given of the blessed state after death, rocked for everlasting certainty in the Everlasting Arms. Sometimes one would think the Everlasting Arms the name of some vivacious public hotel, but not from this rendering. Still, there is the other side of the question, for, whether we believe in hell-fire or not, our future in the after life is by no means settled, and Fauré makes this clear in at least two points in his score. Though he does not employ the actual words “Dies Irae,” I suggest that the passage in the Agnus Dei where an orchestral ff leads to a great pause and then the words “requiem aeternam” are heard (with the music that opens the whole work)—indicates just this possibility of hell-fire. But somehow the four bars of orchestra sounded dull, and the pause was nothing more than a casual cessation of sound.
Again, in the Libera Me, the beginning of the middle section ought obviously to give a sinister suggestion that things may not be so idyllic after all.
But apart from my quarrel on these grounds, I have nothing but praise. The soloists did their small and unrewarding parts extremely well. In fact one noticed how small and unrewarding these parts were, and would have wished for more of this solo singing. Mr Robert Rowell’s best occasion was the Libera Me, where he could get on in fine style with the tune, and not overindulge in the expressive nuances necessitated by the monotonous melodic line of the Offertoire. Miss Stella Hitchins, singing at short notice instead of Miss April Cantelo, enraptured me with the boyish purity of her voice in the Pie Jesu.
The rest of the concert afforded a mounting wave of excitement. The Verdi Stabat Mater was thrilling, and the Te Deum was downright stupendous. Nothing is so breath-taking as being physically bombarded by a battery of sound waves large and small. If we lived in a better climate and in a less prudish society we could have enjoyed this item to the full by listening to it naked.