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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902–1986)
Requiem, Op. 9 (1947) [39.42] (1)
Suite pour Orgue, Op. 5 (1930) [24.03] (2)
Kaaren Erickson (soprano) (1); Arthur Fiacco (cello) (1); Kent Trittle (organ) (2)
Nancianne Parrella (organ) (1)
Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola/Kent Trittle (1)
rec. Church of Ignatius Loyola, New York, 21-23 April 1994, 25 March 1996
MSR CLASSICS MS1141 [63.45]

Duruflé wrote his Requiem in 1947 in a version for choir, orchestra and organ. The work had its origins in a suite of organ pieces based on the plainchant Requiem and plainchant lies at the core of the piece. Around the plainchant, Duruflé wove a gorgeous tissue of sound, unifying disparate elements with sensuous harmonies and seductive scoring.
This sound-world is essential to the work and any performance that uses organ alone is severely hampered. Duruflé did produce a version for choir and organ, a year after the work was first given in its original form, but this was mainly so that the music could be used liturgically. When performed with organ alone, organists must work hard to achieve the array of colour available in the organ and orchestra version.
It is tempting for choirs to record the work with organ because it is more economically viable and because, for church choirs, that is the version that they use in everyday life. But there is another aspect to this choice: using organ alone means that a far smaller group of singers can perform the work.
On this recording from the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York the church choir, a professional group of some 22 singers is employed. This is probably the minimum that I would like. Even though the Requiem is frequently tranquil, its textures call out for a bigger choir. The choir frequently sounds like a small vocal ensemble, and admirably musical though they may be, their sound is not completely suitable for Duruflé’s melodies. The singers are admirably accurate and shape Duruflé’s melodies beautifully, but the results were rather too clean for my taste. I would have preferred something a little warmer and richer.
Whether due to the size of the choir or the exigencies of the recording process Nancianne Parrella’s organ accompaniment comes over as reticent to a fault. If you listen to the version with orchestra, the choir seems to be surrounded by their accompaniment, but here the organ hovers discreetly in the background.
The Requiem was written to be performed in a large space and, to a certain extent, should come over as a gorgeous mess. This account of the work seems to mix an excessive degree of clarity in the vocal parts with haziness in the organ. Perhaps the recording process is to blame and if we heard the group perform it live in their church, we would be pleasantly surprised.
There is one recording with organ which deserves some consideration, the one recorded by Ian de Massini and the Cambridge Singers in Duruflé’s own church, St. Etienne du Mont. There the organ is played by the church’s titulaire, Vincent Warnier. Warnier finds an admirable range of colours in the organ and balance is better than on the Ignatius Loyola recording. But still, the organ seems too reticent; it does not surround the singers the way it seemed to when I heard the group singing live at St. Etienne du Mont.
St. Ignatius Loyola pair their recording of the Requiem with a fine account of Duruflé’s Suite pour Orgue played by Kent Trittle. But the coupling is not really sufficient to make you want me to recommend the record.
If you want to buy a recording of the Requiem, then do seriously consider buying a recording of the full version. The one on Hyperion from Matthew Best and the Corydon Singers is wonderfully recommendable, but I have always had a fondness for the Naxos recording from Michel Picquemal and his own vocal ensemble and the Orchestra de la Cité which uses Duruflé’s 1961 version for organ and reduced orchestra.

Robert Hugill


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