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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986) Messe de Requiem, Op. 9 (1947)* [38’42"]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue (1957-9) [6’48"]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) O Sacrum Convivium (1937) [4’59"]
Patricia Fernandez (mezzo-soprano)
Michel Bouvard (organ)
Ensemble Vocal Les Éléments/Joël Suhubiette
Recorded *in L’Église Nôtre-Dame du Taur, Toulouse, 10-12 July 1999; in La Chappelle des Carmélites, Toulouse, February 1994
HORTUS 018 [50’38"]

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Having recently reviewed a performance of the Duruflé Requiem by the very English choir of Truro Cathedral it’s been interesting to hear a version by a mixed adult French choir. The sound that is produced is, of course, quite different but both versions are satisfying in their different ways. As compared with the Truro choir there’s a greater degree of warmth and maturity to the sound that this French choir makes because, of course, it uses female sopranos and altos, the latter a crucial difference in the blend.

This French choir is larger than the Truro choir. It consists of twelve sopranos, seven each of altos and tenors and seven basses. Actually, the recorded balance is such that at times the organ is a little too dominant (for example at the climax of the Kyrie) but in general the balance is perfectly satisfactory. The singers make a very nice French sound (sample the singing of the ladies at the start of the Sanctus) and, like his colleague at Truro, conductor Joël Suhubiette adopts sensible and natural tempi. A good example of the supple fluency of the choir comes in the unaccompanied passages in the ‘Lux Aeterna’ (track 7) I noticed what sounded like a few slight finger slips early on by organist Michel Bouvard but he soon gets into his stride and he contributes well to the performance.

The ‘Pie Jesu’ is sung by mezzo-soprano Patricia Fernandez, who produces a pretty full sound (perhaps a little too much vibrato for some tastes?). This is surely the sort of sound that the composer had in mind. In a note at the front of the vocal score the composer specifically allows that the baritones of the choir may sing the two short baritone solos. I’ve never actually heard a recorded performance where this has been done but that option is followed here and it’s very successful. The singers sing with absolute unanimity and a good full sound and vindicate the conductor’s decision.

So overall this is a good, fluent and faithful performance of this lovely work. Short works by Poulenc and Messiaen complete the CD. The male voices of the choir give a fine performance of the Poulenc in which I particularly appreciated the forward, very French timbre of the tenors. The whole choir reassembles to perform Messiaen’s rapt motet. The singing is well controlled and the gentle dissonance that underpins the ecstasy is brought out well.

It must be said that the playing time of this disc is rather short. The documentation is in French only and, assuming I have translated them correctly, I found some of the comments in the notes a bit tendentious. No texts are provided, which is a particular drawback in the case of the Poulenc and Messiaen items where the words may be less familiar to listeners.

John Quinn

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