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
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.
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
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!