Encores & Curtain Calls: ‘Faure Requiem’
Several decades ago, I was fortunate enough to hear performance of the “Faure Requiem” under the direction of Blanche Moyse, who for many years was a founding member and director of the Marlboro Music Festival in the Brattleboro, Vt., concert choir.
The music was — in short — rapturous, all the more so for being choral in nature, albeit with orchestra, which I, as well as many others, have always felt to be the most intimate soundscape. Afterward, as the hushed atmosphere of the concert space trembled with the still continuing vibration, in doubt as to whether I wanted to fracture the ongoing epiphany with conversation — I found myself slowly making my way to the stage.
There, amidst the fond warmth of several colleagues and admirers, I could make out the diminutive but so very charismatic figure of a little woman a half-foot or more shorter than virtually all her listeners, herself still almost visibly trembling the same silent vibration that I so palpably felt.
Unobtrusively I made my way to the periphery of the little cluster of smitten music lovers and listened. Madame Moyse, for all her musical savoir-faire, emanated the emotional vulnerability of a young ingenue who had somehow mistakenly got caught up in the conducting of one of the world’s major masterpieces of choral music.
Just behind the transparent mask of her mature visage there radiated the light, star-struck girl, breathlessly trying to take in the reality that she had just conducted what was clearly, for her, a sacred creation.
Her two tiny hands clutched each other just over her heart and I seem to remember that the baton was still in one of them, as if she were still a child with a new Christmas gift which she was not about to relinquish for any reason.
She said something very much like the following: “You know, it is such a great privilege to conduct the ‘Faure Requiem,’ it is as if I have been permitted to come into the very center of Faure’s soul and to share an experience his genius. It is a very humbling experience.”
And I tell you, in all truth, the woman meant every word she said. It was not hyperbole, she was honest and humble enough to share her reverence and her conviction of absolute privilege with even complete strangers such as myself.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was also French, as was Faure. For, most certainly, each culture reveals a unique and special set of dynamics in how their practice their respective arts — whether graphic or literary or musical.
The art and artistry of France has always, for me, occupied an extraordinarily special place in the world cultural scene. Much like the French language itself, the music and visual art of France evade the obvious; they avoid the blatant and the and they seek out the subtle and the soft.
Where German music is bold and declamatory, French music is understated and suggestive. Where German music grows into impressive, many-tiered structures of density and depth, French music dissolves into indistinguishably vast oceans of transparency. Where the German — such as Beethoven in many of his high-spirited moments — strikes the drum to start our blood pulsing, the Frenchman — such Saint-Saens — strokes the harp to stir the soul into flight.
The German composer impels you to his destination, while the French composer softly seduces you there. The German composer, unwilling to leave anything to chance, will take the precaution of doubling or even tripling his musical lines so that they engraved themselves into one’s consciousness with absolute certainty. The French composer has more faith in the power of the merely suggested, the unfinished and the barely implied. For the French composer, less is more.
The perennial favorite of concertgoers, the Faure Requiem, leaves few of its hearers unmoved, yet does so with great restraint and humility. Yes, it grips us, but, much like the title of the old movie, it “runs silent, runs deep.”
Conductor Susan Dedell, who did such a masterly job in the Concert Choir’s previous outing with American composer Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” and English composer Bob Chilcott’s “Requiem,” possesses the sensitivity to nuance and ethos to midwife the Faure’s subtle beauties into a radiant rebirth.
The concert also includes the Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” and “Messe Basse,” and the “Te Deum” of Marc Antoine Charpentier. Soloists for the concert are Junko Watanabe, soprano; Geoffrey Williams, countertenor, Matthew Hensrud, tenor and David McFerrin, baritone.
Of the “Te Deum,” we are informed, “Charpentier typifies that particularly French ability to be at once both intimate and grand, and the “Te Deum” reflects this — alternating full orchestra and chorus with soloists and harpsichord. Indeed, the work is a stunning example of how to illuminate a text and hold the audience in fascination and entertainment the while.”
The girl-like Maestra Moyse is no longer with us; she passed from this realm in 2011, at the age of 101, when, in my final attempt to connect with her by phone, alas, she no longer knew who I was. But I’m sure, given how fierce her passion for her countryman Gabriel’s “Requiem,” she will most certainly be there for the occasion, her hands pressed still over her welling heart.
I’ll look for her.
“A Midsummer’s Concert” on Saturday, June 22, 8 p.m., in Persons Auditorium at Marlboro College, in Marlboro, Vt. Admission is $15 general, and $10 students. To purchase tickets, call the Brattleboro Music Center at 802-257-4523 or purchase online at bmcvt.org.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at