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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Complete Sacred Vocal Works

Messe de Requiem, Op. 9 (1947) [37’08"]
Quatre Motets, Op. 10 (1960) [6’58"]
Messe cum Jubilo, Op. 11 (1966) [17’49"]
Nôtre Père, Op. 14 (1978) [1’27"]
David Kimberg (baritone)
Choir of Truro Cathedral/Robert Sharpe
Christopher Gray; (organ)
Recorded in Truro Cathedral, 12-13 July 2004
LAMMAS LAMM 174D [63’30"]

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Maurice Duruflé’s setting of the Requiem Mass, heavily indebted as it is to the legacy of plainsong, is one I’ve loved ever since I first encountered it while at school. I’ve subsequently been fortunate enough to sing it on a number of occasions. I suppose I should nail my colours to the mast and admit that in some respects I actually prefer it to the sublime setting by Fauré. Having just recently taken part in a run of three performances (of the organ version, as presented here) I was particularly pleased to receive this CD for review.

There is a great deal to admire in this performance. I like Robert Sharpe’s tempi, which without exception flow nicely and very naturally. He is very faithful to the score in his observance of dynamics and the relation of one speed to another. He has clearly trained his choir very well. They make a very pleasing, well-blended sound and the voices are nicely balanced against each other. The engineers have recorded the choir (and the organ) very well and have used the resonant acoustics of Truro Cathedral intelligently. The Father Willis organ sounds absolutely splendid and is played very well indeed by Christopher Gray (hear his dexterity in the staccato figurations of the passage ‘Libera eas de ore leonis’ in the ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ movement (track 3); these are terrifyingly difficult to articulate clearly and precisely but Gray’s playing is pinpoint accurate.

Of course, it may be objected that the sound of an English all-male choir was not the sound that Duruflé had in mind. That may be so but I suspect he would have enjoyed the purity of the Truro trebles and the cutting edge of the sound of their alto colleagues. The choir’s singing is pretty refined but they are also capable of producing a good deal of volume when it’s called for. So, for example, they provide a powerful, unforced climax at ‘Hosanna’ in the Sanctus (track 4). That moment is all the more exciting because just for a few vital seconds it’s underpinned by a terrific pedal sound on the organ.

The two brief baritone solos are well taken by Donald Kimble who projects his voice very well. If I have an issue with this performance it concerns the fifth movement, ‘Pie Jesu’. Like Fauré, Duruflé sets this for a female soloist but whereas Fauré calls for a soprano Duruflé specifies a mezzo-soprano. Here, however, Robert Sharpe has his trebles sing in unison what should be a solo. To be sure, they sing it beautifully, but it’s not what the composer asked for (there is a very specific note in the front of the vocal score detailing some modifications that may be made in performance) and the trebles have a completely different timbre, of course. The range of the solo (from top F sharp down to bottom B flat) is much more suited to a mezzo and this is particularly true of the very end of the piece where the vocal line consists of s series of soft low Cs. The boys just don’t have the body of tone to make these notes tell quietly. It’s ironic that this movement is done in this way when the option that Duruflé specifically allows, for the baritones in the chorus to sing the two short baritone solos, is not taken.

However, though I take issue with the decision over the ‘Pie Jesu’ it’s the only flaw that I find in an otherwise highly recommendable performance. Sharpe and his singers capture beautifully the gorgeous timelessness of the ‘Lux Aeterna’ and the concluding ‘In Paradisum’ is wonderfully done, with the trebles singing angelically. For me this movement is even more otherworldly than the comparable (and much better known) movement in Fauré’s setting. Here Duruflé surely gives us a glimpse of the Beyond. It’s typical of Christopher Gray’s first-rate organ playing that the crucial, questioning G sharp in the very last chord registers discreetly but to perfection.

Duruflé’s output of music was so slender that it’s possible to accommodate all of his sacred vocal music on this one CD. The four motets are, like the Requiem, suffused with the influence of plainsong. Indeed, their full title is Quatre motets sur des Thèmes Grégoriens pour Chœur a cappella. They are all very brief and are lovely little creations, exquisitely crafted. The music ranges from the exuberance of ‘Tu es Petrus’ to the pellucid beauty of ‘Ubi Caritas’. The Truro choir make a splendid job of them.

The Mass ’Cum Jubilo’ is performed here in the version for baritone solo and a chorus of baritones (though the notes don’t really make that clear.) Again, it is very well done. The choral baritones make a very pleasant and committed sound and David Kimberg is in fine form for his two important solos. Once again Christopher Gray makes a distinguished contribution.

Finally, we hear Duruflé’s very last work, a setting in French of the Lord’s Prayer. This exists in two versions, for four-part choir and for solo voice with organ. It’s the latter version that’s given here, sung by the trebles in unison. It’s a simple, sincere and direct piece and it receives a lovely performance. As it’s so short it would have been interesting to have heard the other version as well, but no matter.

This is a most enjoyable and well-produced disc. Despite my one reservation over the ‘Pie Jesu’ I found this a very satisfying recital and I’m very happy to recommend it.

John Quinn

see also

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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