Foray Into Fauré: Hingham High Chorus Tackles Major Works


Will Sutton

Joseph Young directs Mixed Chorus during their performance of the Fauré Requiem.

Will Sutton, Contributing Writer

It’s a tradition dating back decades: the Hingham High Chorus Major Works Concert. Every year, the chorus assembles in a new venue, usually a church, to perform classical pieces of music that fall under one specific theme.

This year, the chorus focused on French composers Camille Saint-Saëns, Bruno Coulais and Christophe Barratier, Claude Debussy, and, most prominently, Gabriel Fauré. The pieces were composed during the late 1800s and early 1900s and were in both Latin and French.

On May 18th, 2017, the chorus assembled in St. John’s Episcopal Church about an hour before audience members arrived to claim their seats. The audience packed the pews, and the concert began promptly at 7:00 p.m.

The first ensemble to perform was Concert Chorale, a chorus composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Concert Chorale opened the concert with an a capella rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Les Fleur Et Les Arbres”, a short French piece inspired in part by the emerging transcendentalist movement during the turn of the century.

The chorus next performed “Tantum Ergo”, an equally brief piece by Gabriel Fauré. The Latin piece featured a complicated yet beautiful soprano solo sung by Olivia Barbuto. The piece offered a preview to the unique style and skill of Gabriel Fauré, including his affinity for complex, interwoven harmonies.

After “Tantum Ergo”, the tenor and bass sections of the chorus exited to allow the alto and soprano parts to perform “Vois Sur Ton Chemin”. This piece was the newest composition on the program, written by Bruno Coulais and Christophe Barratier for the 2004 French film Les Choristes. The instantly catchy and also quite challenging piece was a unique all-treble addition to the night.

To balance the program, an all-male performance came next, with tenors, baritones, and basses from both Concert Chorale and Mixed Chorus performing “Tollite Hostias”. This Christmas Oratorio by Camille Saint-Saëns required an even balance of three voice parts while maintaining strength throughout the minute-long piece.

The final performance before the largest work of the night was Choral Spectrum’s rendition of “Dieul Qu’il La Fait Bon Regarder!” by Claude Debussy. The audition-based group handled the challenging and unique harmonies with ease. The ensemble achieved a high level of connectedness and unity, so that even their breaths were in perfect unison during the performance.

As the performance space was set up to accommodate the performance of the night’s largest work, the Fauré Requiem, the HHS Choral Director Joseph Young paused for senior recognition and chorus awards.

Young first recognized the seniors for their contribution to the chorus program, before also recognizing students who performed in festivals throughout the school year. He then presented individual awards, including Most Improved and Outstanding Contribution to Chorus. The most notable two of these awards went to seniors Matt Rice and Patrick Bird, who won the Bel Canto (Beautiful Voice) and Director’s Awards, respectively.

Following the awards, Mixed Chorus assembled in the performance space. The chorus of Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors was ready to present “Requiem, Op. 48” by Gabriel  Fauré, commonly referred to as the Fauré Requiem.

Requiems are masses for the dead, presented on the day of one’s funeral. They include six movements, although Fauré also included In Paradisum, a seventh movement usually sung during burial proceedings.

Accompanied by a full orchestra, including a harp, Mixed Chorus delivered a powerful, expressive performance of the piece. Though it was clearly a difficult work, the strong sound of the chorus made it equally clear that they were up to the task. Patrick Bird sang a haunting baritone solo, and Sophomore Rachel Ader matched his delicate, expressive qualities as she performed an entire movement, Pie Jesu, as the only voice singing.

The third soloist of the night was Matt Rice, performing a thunderous yet sensitive piece as the requiem built towards its peak.The final movement, In Paradisum, was surprisingly joyful, a reflection of Fauré’s Christian belief that death should be mourned but also celebrated as entry into God’s kingdom.

The entire requiem lasted about 35 minutes, and, as Junior Joe Marwill explained, “It was certainly a challenge to learn all that material so quickly, on top of track and school and everything else. I think that it did end up being worth it, though, because of the sense of accomplishment that I think we all feel.”

With the final chord of the requiem ringing in their ears, chorus members and audience alike shuffled outside to escape the heat of the church, though the 96 degree temperature outside was not much consolation. As Sophomore Rosie Iaria joked, “…at least the Requiem at the end was a refreshing breeze.”

Speaking the morning after the largest chorus concert of the year, Director Joseph Young seemed satisfied with the end product of all his efforts. He mused, “I’m just so excited that our students had the opportunity to create something so beautiful, something that can’t be replicated or explained by words or by the latest technology. I think technology is such a huge, important part of our lives now, when really, we should focus on the beautiful, important artistic experiences like the one we created last night. Classical music has the power to heal, transform, and renew us, and I think that’s why last night was so special.”