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Alfred DESENCLOS (1912-1971)
Requiem
(1963) [36.29]
Salve Regina [4.41]
Nos autem [5.00]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Litanies à la Vierge noire de Rocamadour
(1936) [9.10]
Pierre VILLETTE (1926-1998)
Hymn à la Vierge
(1954) [4.17]
Attende Domine (1983) [6.15]
O Sacrum convivium (1959) [3.31]
Choir of King’s College, London/David Trendell
Christopher Woodward (organ) (Requiem); Richard Hall (organ) (Poulenc)
rec. Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, 23-25 June 2013
DELPHIAN DCD34136 [69.30]

It was back in the summer of 2012 that I reviewed a disc of sacred music by Allegri. The recording had been made in 2011 by Kings College, London. I described this choir as “vibrant and exciting”. On the current disc there’s an extra intensity and passion to be found in the Desenclos. It’s as if they felt that they alone owned this rare music. Well, I still feel the same about them as a result of this latest session in front of Delphian’s microphones. Once again they have hit upon some very worthy but little known repertoire.
 
It’s also true that the choice of Exeter College is a happy arrangement. The acoustic allows volume, power but also clarity and is beautifully balanced with the organ. You can hear this particularly in the Desenclos Requiem. This is a fine and moving work. I played some of it to a local choral director who immediately wanted to discover the publisher. He thought it a finer more impassioned work than the Duruflé Requiem. So do I which is interesting as Desenclos was a pupil of Duruflé. In the ‘Libera Me’ the D minor tonality adds a touch or more of Fauré. Some of the luxuriant, almost bluesy, harmonies of Howells are present also.
 
Desenclos’s melodies are surely much influenced or at least informed by Gregorian chant although he also likes harmonies which move around triadically and in parallel. Like Fauré Desenclos omits the ‘Dies irae’ and places a stronger emphasis on the ‘Kyrie’ at the start. One wonders if he wrote this work in the Conservatoire in Roubaix where he was Principal and where he had also been a student. One also wonders if the reason why Desenclos is so unknown is because he hardly left this parochial northern French city. He did however win the coveted Prix de Rome which incidentally is something Ravel never managed to do. There are also several orchestral works which should be worth hearing.
 
Desenclos’s music takes up about two-thirds of this disc and we are also treated to two accompanying motets which are in a similar style. Nos autem is a setting of a text suitable for Maundy Thursday. The Salve Regina is a much set text in honour of the Virgin.
 
Pierre Villette is better known mostly through his Hymn to the Virgin. This is often heard during the Christmas season and is distinctive probably on account of its rather soupy harmonies. By the way, the same composer’s more striking and dissonant O sacrum convivium is nothing like Messaien’s work of the same name. It swoops around chromatically, landing periodically on a major triad but has several poignant climaxes and a stirring set of Alleluias. There’s also a great piled-up eleventh chord — I think — at the end. His more restrained setting of Attende Domine is suitable for Lent and ends with “wash away the strains of our sin”.
 
Poulenc’s Litanies à la Vierge noire is noble and deeply felt. It was written soon after the tragic death of a friend. There is a sparse organ accompaniment but it’s very effective. David Trendell grades the dynamics most impressively. Intonation, often hard in Poulenc, is never an issue for the choir or for the various soloists or solo groups.
 
To sum up: we have here a rare collection and one which is beautifully performed and recorded by a choir which continues to grow in confidence. The conductor has written the valuable booklet notes and all of the texts are provided. There are also some attractive colour photos of the young thirty-strong choir. This is well worth searching out.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: John Quinn (Recording of the Month May 2014)