"The success of the Requiem took Fauré quite by surprise, as he had written the work purely for his own pleasure and use. As an organist, he found the music he played to accompany funerals uncongenial, particularly as he did not care for the Catholic emphasis on fear before judgement and on potential torment. Fauré’s Requiem journeys from sombre gloom, with shafts of sunlight gradually breaking through the clouds, until it reaches the clear skies of In Paradisum.
La Naissance de Vénus preceded the Requiem by five years and it was clearly a work he held in high esteem, so it is strange that it should have been so neglected in the recording catalogue. The reason may lie in the reputation it has gained through the writings of various experts, who, while conceding that the work contains ‘undoubtedly one of Fauré’s finest orchestral passages’, damn it for its banal text and for the ‘academic’ music in the final chorus. It is true that the text, which was written by a wealthy would-be author, was not Fauré’s choice. Nevertheless, the subject was very close to Fauré’s heart and much of the music is equal to his best.
Cantique de Jean Racine, which has become almost an unofficial companion to the Requiem, was in fact written many years earlier in 1865, when Fauré was just twenty. Its sober, limpid harmonies and pliant melodic lines make it seem a natural pendent to the much later Requiem. Fauré composed Pavane in the summer of 1887, originally for orchestra alone, and dedicated it to the Countess Elisabeth Greffulhe. He persuaded her cousin to provide a text to accompany the music and duly incorporated it into the version which has been recorded here.