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
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
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.
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