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Fauré was a precociously brilliant composer. By his late teens, he had already developed his own unique and utterly assured musical voice.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in his Cantique de Jean Racine. Composed in 1865, when Fauré was just twenty, it’s very much a precursor to the Requiem, with similarly lush, intense choral writing layered on top of sparse organ accompaniment. As with the Requiem, it takes a religious text as its inspiration – in this case, words by the French playwright Jean Racine.
Fauré studied composition at the École Niedermeyer in Paris, and submitted this piece for the school’s composition competition. He won first prize and his success spurred him on to write more religious music.
Despite coming in for some criticism during his lifetime for a failure to embrace larger-scale works, Fauré stuck to his guns and resolutely refused to move away from chamber music and elegant choral miniatures. While the Cantique de Jean Racine is only five minutes long, it’s none the worse for that, and it confirms Fauré’s status not just as an outstanding young musician but as one of France’s most influential and important composers.
Choir of King’s college, Cambridge; James Vivian (organ); Stephen Cleobury (conductor). Decca: 4600212.