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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Requiem, Op. 9 (1961 version with small orchestra) [37:36]
Quatre Motets sur des Thèmes Grégoriennes, Op. 10 (1960) [7:32]
Messe ‘Cum Jubilo’, Op. 11 (1967 version with organ) [20:41]
Patricia Bardon (mezzo); Ashley Riches (bass-baritone) Tom Etheridge and Richard Gowers (organ)
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Stephen Cleobury
rec. 7-8, 11-12 January 2015, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge
Latin texts and English translations included

This is another lovely disc from the King’s College own label. Who on earth said that the record industry was dead? Individual labels allow little gems like this to appear on the market under the control of the artists, and that’s a lovely thing for listeners like you and me.

King’s have, of course, recorded the Duruflé Requiem before, but Cleobury sets his mark on it here, and having the orchestra really helps. The magical opening, for example, is a tremulous, quivering mass of sound, like the primordial sludge at the beginning of a science fiction film, from which this glorious music is conjured, the choir rising about it like the spirit over the waters.

It's then the organ that brings light from darkness at the beginning of the Domine Jesu Christe, over which the altos seem to hang suspended in mid-air until the dark drama of Libera eas. The violins also help enormously, as they soar dove-like above the choral line of the Agnus Dei, and having the trumpets and drums for the Dies Iraq puts the organ-only version into the shade.

The boys produce a translucent, radiant sound, while the men create a rock solid base in which to anchor them. Listen to the way the Kyrie seems to float upwards from the entry of the baritones, or the tremulous drama created by the tenors and basses at Suscipe with the collusion of the orchestral strings. Singing in simple unison, the choir achieves the most beatific peace during the Requiem aeternam section of the Lux aeterna, before a much more serious mood enters for the Libera me with its dramatic climaxes and urgent pleading, particularly effective from the boys in the opening section. The famous Sanctus is a masterclass in the slow build, moving like a great arch from the shuddering opening (that primordial soup again!) to the great climax on Hosanna, then back down to the Benedictus, and the work’s final In paradisum has a superb sense of mystery to it. Patricia Bardon sounds perhaps a little too matronly (warbly?) in the Pie Jesu, but that’s my only criticism.

They are helped by the chapel’s famously resonant acoustic, which is caught wonderfully by engineers who have already proved their worth in their stunning Gabrieli disc. The sound homes in on the choir more closely for the four motets, all, of which are sung with clarity and directness (they do this sort of thing so often that the could manage it in their sleep), though the boys sound a little uncomfortable in the Tota pulchra es.

Scored only for baritones (plus a baritone soloist) the Messe cum jubilo has a much darker colour than the requiem, but it is given the same level of commitment, and it's actually rather lovely to hear only one section of the choir spotlit and given the chance unencumbered to do its own thing. The choral line isn't particularly interesting (its unison throughout), but the Gregorian lines, so important to the composer, get the chance to shine in an unadulterated form, and the variety of sound emanating from the organ is marvellous, as is Ashley Riches’ dramatic solo line.

It's difficult to put your finger on exactly why, but to me there is something rather Gallic about their pronunciation; vowels slightly occluded and lots of head voice to add character. Maybe that's just a placebo on my part, but either way I really liked it, and I liked the disc as a whole, too. For a mixed choir version I still think it’s hard to beat Accentus, but if it’s boys you’re after then this one is very good.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: John Quinn



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