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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Requiem, Op. 9* [39’37"]
Quatre motets sur des thèmes Grégoriens, Op.10** [7’ 20"]
Messe "Cum Jubilo", Op. 11*** [18’23"]
Prélude et fugue sur le nom d’Alain, Op. 7**** [11’ 04"]
*Hélène Bouvier (mezzo-soprano); Xavier Depraz (bass);
Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier (organ)
Chorales Philippe Caillard et Stéphane Caillat
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Lamoureux/Maurice Duruflé
Recorded in 1959
**Chorale Stéphane Caillat/Maurice Duruflé
Recorded in 1965
***Roger Soyer (baritone); Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier (organ)
Chorale Stéphane Caillat; Orchestre Nationale de l’O.R.T.F./Maurice Duruflé
Recorded in 1971
**** Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier (organ)
Recorded in 1963 on the Gonzales organ at Soissons cathedral
WARNER CLASSICS APEX 2564 61139-2 [77’46"]

 

I first encountered this recording by Maurice Duruflé of his sublime Requiem on a dim Erato LP many years ago. Subsequently Erato reissued that recording and the others here on CD. (The Requiem was on Erato 4509-96952-2. The other pieces included here were on 4509-98526-2. I mention this in case collectors have some of these performances and don’t want to risk unnecessary duplication.)

I’ve been lucky enough to sing in several performances of the Requiem over the years, including a couple of performances in France with a French choir and orchestra. If there were any justice in the world it would be as highly regarded as Fauré’s lovely setting, to which in many ways it bears a striking resemblance. Like Fauré, Duruflé eschews spectacle and drama in his setting and focuses instead on the peace and consolation of the funeral Mass, not least for the bereaved. Indeed, the two composers set exactly the same passages of the text of the Mass. However, where Duruflé differs from Fauré is in his much more overt debt to plainsong. Plainsong is an ever-present influence throughout the work and because the thematic material is almost exclusively based on plainsong chants, there is a great freedom of rhythm and metre throughout the work. It is a wonderfully luminous and spiritual setting, steeped in the timelessness of Gregorian chant.

The accompaniment exists in three versions. Here the composer directs the original scoring for full orchestra and organ. (The later versions are for a smaller orchestral ensemble with organ or for accompaniment by organ alone. All three work very well, I think.)

This is a very French performance. Thus, for example, we hear the sound of real French horns in the third movement, ‘Domine Jesu Christe’, which some may hate; I think they sound wonderful in this context. The singers, too, are unmistakably Gallic with a nasal tone, especially from the tenors. If you know you are allergic to this kind of sound you may wish to avoid this performance – but may I respectfully suggest that would be a mistake. Duruflé draws a devoted and committed performance from singers and players alike. It’s not a performance entirely free from blemish but it carries the firm stamp of authority.

I have reservations about both soloists. I don’t find the sound made by baritone Xavier Depraz altogether pleasing. He sounds under pressure a few times and there’s one occasion when he adds an ugly aspirant in a phrase that comes out as "pro h animabus illis" (track 3, 6’02"). In the ‘Pie Jesu’, ravishingly scored for strings and solo cello, contralto Hélène Bouvier is perhaps a little too fulsome for my taste but others may disagree with that subjective assessment.

If you don’t know this Requiem and want to sample before buying may I recommend you try track 9. This is the ‘In Paradisum’ with which, like Fauré, Duruflé concludes his setting. This is an even more wondrous setting than Fauré’s glorious inspiration? Duruflé attains a mood of ethereal loveliness that is quite otherworldly. This ending falls like a benediction of heavenly peace. The performance here is suitably rapt.

The four motets are exquisite miniatures, especially the lovely Ubi caritas. I don’t think that the choral sound is quite as well blended as it should be. Under the composer’s direction we hear spirited, serviceable performances. I’ve heard more subtle performances but these will give pleasure.

The Messe "Cum Jubilo" is scored for the unusual combination of baritone solo, a chorus of baritones, organ and orchestra. My review copy had a five-second gap in the music in track 14 at 0’56", which is not present in the original CD issue. There are a few rough patches of intonation in the choral singing but, once again, one forgives that in view of the commitment the singers display. Baritone Roger Soyer is a warm soloist in the reflective central section of the Gloria and, even more so, in the Benedictus.

Finally there’s a major work written by Duruflé for his own instrument, the organ. His tribute to Jehan Alain includes allusions to that composer’s magnificent Litanies in the Prélude. The work is played with magisterial authority by Duruflé’s wife and there’s a wonderfully authentic, reedy French tone to the organ, especially in the aforementioned Prélude. Madame Duruflé builds the concluding fugue to a powerful, exciting conclusion. The recorded sound for this work is the best in the set.

This anthology offers an excellent introduction to the music of this modest, unassuming but dedicated French composer. The recordings are quite adequate for their age though the orchestral sound is somewhat muddy, especially in the Requiem. There are decent notes and the Latin texts are provided. This music has many beauties and many subtleties and is very well worth getting to know, especially under the composer’s direction. Strongly recommended.

John Quinn



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