A small perfect work that rises from solemn chords to a serene and almost sensuously beautiful setting of the Requiem. Fauré minimised the more hellfire parts of the liturgy; the choir and orchestra rarely unleash their full roar. Instead, sinuous plainchant-like lines reflect Fauré’s early training in church music. The work ends in the uplifting “In Paradisum,” sung by a host of angelic voices.
Rachmaninoff’s imaginative setting both supports and subverts the coloristic word- painting of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem. It’s a broad emotional canvas filled with innocence and joy, drama and solemn spirituality. The first movement, a dashing sleigh-ride, is filled with youthful optimism and delight, “Silver bells, what a world of merriment their melody foretells.” The second movement’s joy is more reserved, with winding, gently surging waves of melody until the choir and soprano enter, singing, “Hear the mellow wedding bells— Golden bells!” and the horns ring out in bell-chords. The third movement charts the course of a terrible conflagration arising from a single spark. A long cor anglais solo introduces the final movement whose sombre vision of funeral bells and the shivering terror of ghostly apparitions ends with a surprising lift into peace.