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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902- 1986)
Requiem Op. 9 43.46
Mass "Cum jubilo" Op.11. 19.22
Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens. Op. 10 9.06
Notre Père Op. 14 1.36
Anne Sofie von Otter (mez) Thomas Hampson (bar) Marie-Claire Alain (organ) Orfeon Donostiarre / José Antonio Sainz Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse Cond. Michel Plasson
Recorded 9/10 April 1999. Toulouse. EMI Classics. 7243 5 56878 2 74.27

A new Emi offering is an all Duruflé disc of his Requiem, a Mass 'cum jubilo', and two other works. For the recording two 'name ' soloists are used, otherwise the entire team involved is French.

Maurice Duruflé was, until his death on 1986, the latest, possibly the last, in the honoured line of organist / composers which the French seem to have made their own. His output was not large, and what he did compose was often changed and revised - often at the instigation of others. For instance, his Requiem is heard on this latest recording with the 1947 version for mixed chorus, large orchestra and organ, though versions for choir with organ accompaniment only, or with chorus and chamber orchestra exist. Another option available would be the use of boy trebles in performance, a choice not made on this CD.

Settings of the Mass do not follow a rigidly defined structure. Different composers select different sections of the ritual and in this case, Duruflé omits the Dies Irae but includes In Paradisum. The selections were not arbitrary, but chosen to follow the pattern set by Fauré and showed his respect for the older composer.

It would be difficult to imagine a less theatrical setting of a Requiem. No histrionics, no showy bits, the work comes over as a deeply felt, intense work from a devout man. The orchestra seldom rises above forte and when it does, the moments are all the more telling. In a work that has no great rhythmic variety or changes of tempi a certain sameness is inevitable. Compensation for this is the subtle variety in the orchestral writing.

There is a lot to enjoy in this recording. The orchestral playing throughout was a delight. There were few calls for showcase playing, rather integration and cohesion being called for, and given. The chorus throughout sounded like a well trained and balanced body, with no obvious weakness. The controlled slow crescendo in the Kyrie was admirably handled and the tympani led outburst in the Domine Jesu Christe section and the following magical passage with the womens' voices set against solo organ were memorable.

Thomas Hampson's voice, dramatically clear against some exquisite scoring for oboe and lower strings, in the Offertory's Hostias,and Anne Sofie von Otter in an delightful Pie Jesu, soaring away in the big acoustic sang well. Much as I enjoyed this episode, a degree more of distance to the mezzo soloist would have given a more ethereal effect.

So, I hear you say, what didn't you like? A recording should be judged by imagining oneself in a prime seat in the concert hall, or church as in this case. With a large chorus, a big orchestra and organ and a church acoustic inevitably some clarity will be lost, as in this recording, and one accepts this. It is disconcerting, though, to be listening to a unified chorus placed (correctly) behind the orchestra, then within the same section to hear voices from the extreme wings giving the illusion of a split choir. An instance is the womens' chorus in Agnus Dei. At times some audible breathing distracted (in Lux aeterna at 30 secs, 3.07 and 3.50).

The Mass Cum jubilo, dating from 1966 and the composer's final work is in five sections. Written for Baritone soloist and baritone chorus with orchestra and organ it proves to be a brief work of considerable charm. The score is an open textured delight. Thomas Hampson is featured in the Gloria and the Benedictus and the chorus with the slightly unusual job specification is excellent.

When Duruflé was a young man, there was something of a revival of interest in France in Gregorian chant. His 1960 composition - 4 Motets on Gregorian Themes - sung a capella showed what a fine body the French Choir is. The rich acoustic matched the music in a delightful few minutes. No quarrels with the recording here. The separate parts were clear yet cohesive. Quite delightful. Our Father (sung in French and unaccompanied) completed the disc.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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