Le Concert Spirituel/Niquet review – Fauré’s Requiem in cogent context | Classical music

French sacred music from the fin de siècle formed the basis of Hervé Niquet’s Wigmore programme with Le Concert Spirituel, which effectively contextualised Fauré’s Requiem by prefacing it with an extended sequence of motets and meditative instrumental pieces by Fauré’s contemporaries and precursors, none of them more than five minutes long, and all of them, one suspects, entirely new to the audience.

In part, the concert was a forceful reminder that no work, however unique, exists in a vacuum. The Requiem itself, rather than being composed in a single burst of inspiration, actually evolved from similar short pieces over a number of years. The instrumentation at its early liturgical performances – organ, harp, a handful of strings and a couple of horns – was seemingly common in Parisian churches at the time, as Théodore Dubois’ Benedicat Vobis and Saint-Saëns’s O Salutaris in A Flat made abundantly clear. The latter with its rippling harps and arching vocal lines formed the prototype for Fauré’s Sanctus, and the Requiem’s Libera Me, with its baritone solo and unison chorus, served as the model for Alexandre Guilmant’s beautiful O Salutaris in its turn.

The intelligence of the programming was matched by performances of considerable cogency. Niquet’s way with the Fauré was swift, urgent, unsentimental. Small forces – nine players, a choir of 13 – resulted in an austere sound, consolatory yet sombre, and far removed from the plushness that some interpreters prefer. Using French pronunciation of ecclesiastical Latin (with “u” as in “tu”, “an” and “em” nasalised, and so on), the singing was beautifully focused, the altos and tenors particularly fine in the hovering phrases of the Offertorium. Not everyone would care for Niquet’s rather controversial allocation of the Pie Jesu to unison sopranos rather than a single singer, though baritone Jean-Christophe Lanièce, handsome of voice and presence, made a wonderfully fervent soloist in both the Requiem and Guilmant’s O Salutaris. The motets, which included an exquisite Ave Maris Stella by Delibes and Saint-Saëns’s haunting Ave Verum, were all superbly done.

Available to watch free on demand on the Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel.


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