Philharmonic’s comforting Faure Requiem ‘a blessing’

Different from the standard Requiem format, Gabriel Fauré’s work contains no Dies irae, and adds two prayers from the burial office: the "Libera me" and "In Paradisum." Fauré noted in an interview “that people have said my Requiem did not express the terror of death, someone called it a lullaby of death. But that is how I feel death: a happy deliverance, a yearning for the happiness beyond, rather than a distressing transition.”

There are three versions of the Requiem. The original, written for a funeral in Fauré’s parish church, the original published version of 1893-94, and a large symphonic version 1900-01. It is the 1893 version that Conductor Davis Bowden of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic has chosen for the ensemble’s recently streamed concert, for it is here where the simplistic, yet moving musical compositional style of lyric modalism conveys the intimacy of the work.

And, the orchestra, choruses, and soloist convey this intimacy as the music literally washes over the listener much like the surf washes upon the seashore. It would be easy for a musical jolt to break the contemplative nature of this performance, but it never happens.

Since this concert is presented via a recording, I suggest that a quiet location be sought whereby a listener can immerse oneself in this comforting work.

The scoring for this performance is for chamber orchestra, the Philharmonic Chorus, trebles, baritone solo, and organ. Bowden’s introduction provides a concise overview of the work and how the movements interrelate. The viewer will immediately notice the arrangement of the chorus – COVID-spaced and dispersed throughout the nave.

My immediate response was how can a tight ensemble be maintained at these distances and within the generous acoustics of First Christian Church.

No problem. In fact, I contend that the spacing allow the singers to truly hear one another resulting not only in superb blend, but a clarity of diction that often escapes such works. Only once did I detect a loss of ensemble, and that was in the beginning of the Agnus Dei, but it tightened up immediately upon the third statement (Requiem aeternam) and drew to a most successful conclusion.

The two-part women section opening the Sanctus was exquisite and a leads to the baritone entrance. David Rugger was an ideal choice for the two solo passages. His clean yet sonorous voice and execution has more the quality of a cantor rather than an oratorio soloist.

There are places where an “operatic” flourish could be inserted, but it would have been most inappropriate. It doesn’t happen. The return to "O Domine" by the full chorus exemplifies the fine ensemble singing of the Philharmonic Chorus.

There is nothing quite like the quality of the unchanged voices of children. And the Columbus Children’s Choir under the direction of the indefatigable Ruth Dwyer is a blessing to this community. The "Pie Jesu" is simply serene. It begins with only the organ as the accompaniment and grows from there. Only a few times is the organ prominent throughout the Requiem, but is more often than not a part of the total ensemble.

Organist Lisa Lohmyer’s ability to always be “within” the context of the orchestra deserves acknowledging. The Libera me is the movement with the most notable crescendo emphasizing the text. But the peak doesn’t last long nor is it jolting to the listener before it relapses back into the reflective mood that is characteristic of the entire work. Again, David Rugger treats the solo with dignity as does everyone in this major movement of the entire Requiem.

Arpeggiated passages from the organ and harp immediately establish the prayerful sense of the "In Paradisum." The text is again introduced by the treble voices, then the chorus, and the movement – along with entire requiem – draws to a peaceful and restful close. A happy deliverance. This is my favorite movement. Fauré through this music gives us a serene and peaceful way of encountering death – that which is all too familiar to us during this pandemic. It is a blessing to have The Philharmonic bring this performance to us at this time.

Comments on the production. Having spent some time in the recording business, I am most impressed by the quality of this presentation. Audio quality and mixing, and the video quality and tasteful panning that never detracts from the performance is truly professional. The members of the team were: Brian Walker, video engineer; Jay Mosier, audio engineer; and Jacob Zaring, audio mastering.

Kudos on your fine work. This is a wonderful collaboration between the Philharmonic, First Christian Church, and the production team.