This is the third in the Laudantes Consort’s four disc survey
of requiems, one from each century. Previous discs in the series
have mixed the common and the uncommon - Ockeghem and Lassus,
Campra and Michael Haydn - and shown the choir to have chameleon-like
abilities to get under the skin of the different styles. On this
disc their nineteenth century choice is Bruckner’s early Requiem
and their twentieth century choice is the Requiem by Duruflé.
was written in 1848 when he was 24, though he revised it in
1854 and again in 1894. It is for choir, soloists and orchestra
(strings and trombones). Stylistically it is determinedly old-fashioned,
and unfortunately it rarely rises above its models. Frankly,
if it wasn’t by Bruckner no-one would be very interested in
it. Bruckner sets the Introit, Kyrie, Dies Irae, Offertory,
Sanctus, Benedictus and Communion. It is the Benedictus which
seems to offer the most promising material. There Bruckner seems
to be able to transcend his models. Though the writing is competent
and coherent, there are few glimpses of the mature Bruckner
of the masses and symphonies.
Guy Janssens and
his forces give the work a decent shot. This is, after all,
a rare outing in the catalogue although Matthew Best and has
Corydon Singers recorded it in 1988. The choir are accompanied
by an orchestra playing on period instruments and overall they
make a good clean, focused sound. I was less taken with the
soloists. Neither Elke Janssens nor Penelope Turner is quite
a match for Best’s casting of Joan Rodgers and Catherine Denley.
Plus Roel Williams sounds frankly rather stressed by the tessitura
of the part.
Janssens and his
forces have paired Bruckner’s early work with Duruflé’s mature
Requiem, written in 1947 when the composer was in his mid-forties.
He was inspired by some organ paraphrases of the plainsong for
the Mass of the Dead, and the work is suffused with plainsong.
Duruflé created three versions of the piece, the first for chorus,
orchestra and organ, the second for chorus and organ and the
third for chorus, small orchestra and organ.
Colour is an important
factor in the work. In the original version the organ plays
only an episodic part, adding to the delicate and sophisticated
instrumental colourations. This variegated feeling is, by and
large, lost in the organ-only version which must be regarded
as something of a second choice, created primarily for liturgical
For some inexplicable
reason, it is this organ version which Janssens has chosen to
record, despite the presence of a small orchestra for the Bruckner.
It would have been possible to record the Duruflé in the composer’s
third version with very similar forces to those used for the
Bruckner, except that Janssens has opted for period instruments
for the Bruckner.
If I was going to
pick a recording of the organ version of the Duruflé, then high
on my list would be that made in Durufle’s own church, St. Etienne
du Mont, by Ian de Massini and the Cambridge Voices.
Colour and mystery
are an essential part in a successful performance of the work.
It is necessary for the organist to find a whole variety of
colours in their instrument and for both singers and organist
to generate a feeling of mystery. Unfortunately, the most prominent
feature of this new recording would seem to be clarity and directness.
Usually these would be virtues that I would laud, but in the
Duruflé they are out of place.
Quite simply, Janssens
and his singers just fail to generate the atmosphere of plainchant
sung in the gloom amidst a swirl of incense. Theirs is a far
clearer-sighted, less romantic performance and it may appeal
to some people.
The disc was recorded
in the church of St. Etienne, Braine-l’Alleud in Belgium. The
organ there is one dating from 1915 by Van Bever. Though the
Van Bever brothers worked in the grand romantic organ tradition,
the organ part as played on this disc simply fails to sound
adequately French to my ears. You cannot beat hearing the music
played on a distinctively French instrument, preferably a Cavaillé-Coll.
Though it is not
an ideal recording by any means, I have always had an admiration
for the Naxos recording by the Ensemble Vocal Michel Piquemal
and the Orchestre de la Cité under Michel Piquemal. This has
the advantage that the choir sound as if they have been singing
the work for ever; their feeling for the work’s atmosphere is
There are more recommendable
versions of both the works featured on this disc. If this combination
does appeal to you, then the performances are creditable even
if not ideal, but you will want other recordings of the works
in your library as well.