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Maurice DuruflÉ (1902-1986)

Complete Organ Music
Fugue sur le thème du Carillon des heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons Op. 12 (1962) [3:30]
Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le thème du 'Veni Creator' Op. 4 (1930) [20:09]
Prélude sur l'Introït de l'Epiphanie Op. 13 (1961) [2:15]
Scherzo Op. 2 (1924) [6:01]
Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain Op. 7 (1942) [12:35]
Méditation Op. posth. (1964) [3:43]
Hommage à Jean Gallon(1953) [1:54]
Suite Op. 5 (1933): Prélude, Sicilienne, Toccata [23:14]
Henry Fairs (organ)
rec. Church of Notre Dame d’Auteuil, Paris, 5-6 June 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.557924 [73:21]


I have discussed Duruflé's organ music in some detail in these pages in recent years, so I restrict myself to a few remarks on this present recording.

It is of interest to consider why the music of Maurice Duruflé is so popular. There are some twenty editions of the ‘complete organ works’ available, in addition to numerous offerings of the wonderful Requiem. Individual organ recitals often include one or more of his ‘potboilers’ or ‘warhorses.’ I was musing on this popularity during one of those ‘lying awake in the middle of the night’ moments. And I think I have come to the conclusion that there are three reasons. Firstly the style is much more subtly impressionistic than over-blown romantic, or more pertinently, neo-classical. If I was to define his musicality it would be Ravel tempered with Gregorian chant and a touch of the urbanity of Poulenc. Secondly Duruflé never followed the dictates of fashion - he did not dabble in twelve-tone techniques or other musical fads popular in mid-century France. And lastly his oeuvre for organ is so small that it can easily be recorded onto one CD. Compare this to the dozen or so discs of Widor, Vierne, Dupré and Messiaen. So it is music to be enjoyed and appreciated without a huge intellectual effort or time commitment.

Finally, and most vitally, it is always attractive and often moving; music that uplifts and inspires and makes the soul glad. And this, I believe, will seal Duruflé’s popularity for all time.

Naxos has already given a fine conspectus of Duruflé’s music. The two volumes published in 1995 include the four major organ works, the Requiem in its orchestral incarnation, the important but lesser known Messe “Cum Jubilo” and the remaining choral pieces. On this recording Eric Lebraun was the organist. It is therefore important that Naxos have chosen to release the ‘complete’ works without deleting the earlier discs.

The first place of investigation on a Duruflé CD for me is always the Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain. Fairs manage to give a beautiful and moving rendition of this piece – preserving and even emphasising the memorial nature of the dedication. If I like an organist's interpretation of this work, then I am fairly certain that I will enjoy the other pieces too. And this proves to be the case. Fine performances of the Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le thème du 'Veni Creator' and the Suite account for the major works. A highlight for me is the Scherzo. It never ceases to impress me. Yet it was written as an examination exercise! The lesser-known works are well played and both demand our attention and insist they take there rightful place as key parts of the repertoire.

Henry Fairs is a name that is unknown to me. He is organist to the University of Birmingham as well as Organ Tutor at the Birmingham Conservatoire. Appropriately he was awarded the Prix Maurice Duruflé at a recent Grand Prix de Chartres competition. He regularly gives recitals throughout Europe and the United States. The current CD would appear to be his debut recording.

The programme notes are written by Fairs and present a good introduction to the composer and his music. I felt that the specification for the organ left a bit to be desired. The stops are all mentioned, and the organ builder, however there is no history of the organ and no references to pistons, couplers, balanced swells and other information essential to the average organ enthusiast. 

As an aside, the Prélude, recitatif et variations for Flute, Viola & Piano, the Trois Dances Op.6 and the Andante & Scherzo Op.8, both for orchestra, are all works that Naxos could perhaps consider recording in the future. And perhaps there is a place for the Vierne and Tournemire ‘reconstructions.’

It is always difficult to decide the relative merit of a new recording added to a long list of exemplars. Paraphrasing my late father, no-one deliberately makes a bad recording of the ‘Complete Organ Works of Maurice Duruflé.’ Often decisions as to what version is ‘best’ come down to subjective opinions or even irrational preference. The present recording has, to my ear, four advantages – one the clarity of the sound is superb, secondly the playing is totally competent and convincing, thirdly the organ used is a Caviallé-Coll and lastly it is a well-presented CD at only £5.99.

But the bottom line is that enthusiasts of Duruflé’s music will insist on having at least half a dozen different recordings. The present disc would make an ideal first instalment to that collection!

John France


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