This recent disc, recorded live in concert at London's Barbican Hall, brings together an unlikely pairing: Mozart's Vesperae solennes de confessore (K.339), composed in 1780, and Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, composed around 1887. A hundred years separate the two choral works, and they seem to come from two entirely different worlds. Mozart's piece perfectly evokes the gilded Baroque splendor of Salzburg Cathedral, for which it was written. It's full of pomp and ornamentation. Fauré's work, on the other hand, is delicate, intimate, meditative, impressionistic. But the pairing works brilliantly. The Mozart ends with a rousing Magnificat in the key of C Major that comes to rest on a solid C chord. After a moment of silence, the Fauré begins with a sustained D chord in the orchestra—the music has moved one full step up the scale, and from the bright key of C Major to the meditative key of D minor. The transition is lovely, and beautifully bridges the gap between the two musical worlds.
The highlight of the Mozart Vespers is the Laudate Dominum—one of those ethereally simple Mozart andantes—sung with perfect beauty and clarity by soprano Elin Manahan Thomas. She returns on the second half of the disc to sing the famous Pie Jesu movement of the Requiem. Her voice is pure and sweet and beautiful. But, for me, the highlights of the Fauré are the Offertoire—dark and intimate and searching—and the lighter and breezier Agnus Dei. The Offertoire features the rich and warm baritone of soloist Roderick Williams. Although the Requiem is a mass for the dead, the music is both comforting and sensual—its darker moments always resolve into sunlight. It concludes with the delicate In Paradisum that seems to float softly heavenward.
I went over to the piano and played a D minor scale: D-E-F-G-A-B flat-C-D. It sounded curiously unresolved, like it still had somewhere to go. Will attempted to explain to me the theory of harmonic and melodic minors, the subtonic, and the difference between ascending and descending minor scales. I heard, but I didn't understand. My reaction to music is on a more gut level. To me, D-minor seems to be reaching for something, reaching out of darkness toward light. It's the key of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Mozart's Requiem—pieces in which finality is leavened with aspiration and expectation.
The disc opens with Mozart's brief and perfect Ave Verum Corpus, perhaps as a nod to Camille Saint-Saens, who said of Fauré's Pie Jesu: "Just as Mozart's is the only Ave Verum Corpus, this is the only Pie Jesu." The sound quality throughout the disc is remarkable: both spacious and intimate as the music requires. The choir (The Sixteen) and the orchestra (The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) are the best in Britain.
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
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