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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Complete Choral works
Missa ‘Cum Jubilo’ for choir, baritones and organ Op. 11 [19.56]
Quatre Motets (on Gregorian themes) Op. 10 [8.35]
Notre Père for unaccompanied choir [1.30]
Requiem for soloists, choir and organ op. 9 [38.39]
Houston Chamber Choir/Robert Simpson
Ken Cowen (organ); Cecilia Duarte (mezzo soprano); Eduardo Tercero (tenor)
rec. 2017, Edythe Old Recital Hall and Grand Organ, Rice University, Houston, USA

This CD might cause some of you a bit of a problem. Recordings of Duruflé’s choral music are not uncommon and one of the most well-known, especially in the UK, is by the choir of Westminster Cathedral under James O’Donnell recorded for Hyperion in 1994. Obviously that choir has boy trebles on the top line with their very special sound. There’s an older version by St. John’s Cambridge under George Guest on Decca, again all male, and another St. John’s version under Christopher Robinson on Nimbus. It may be that one of those is a particular favourite and that you feel that the boys’ voices is the sound you really want.

Now, I may be wrong, but I believe that in 1941 when the work was first performed, Duruflé had women on the top line, so recordings like this one by this fine Houston Chamber choir should not be rejected out of hand, especially when the sopranos have such a clearly focused and expressive tone quality. It all comes down to whether you want another recording of this famous and beautiful work which presents a different quality of vocal texture from the Oxbridge sound or, if you are coming to the work for the first time, what kind of choir or interpretation you prefer.

I have to say immediately, that if this were my only recording, I would not be unhappy. All of the music’s qualities are successfully realised.

Perhaps some readers might be concerned about tempi. It is true to say that the Houston performance of the Requiem clips almost four minutes off the Westminster one, but the acoustic may have made a difference in dictating the pace of some movements like the ‘In Paradisum’. In the joyous ‘Messe “Cum Jubilo”, however, both versions are the same length.

Perhaps the soloists are crucial to you. I can compare only the Westminster ones with those from Houston. Significantly, in the Requiem’s ‘Pie Jesu’ in the former recording we have a boy treble, one Aaron Webber who has made his name as a professional singer since 1994. Houston use a seemingly young mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte who has a pleasing, expressive and even tone quality. The baritone for Westminster is the well-known Simon Keenlyside but the Houston recording carries out Duruflé’s wish of having not a soloist but a choir of baritones, which I think I prefer. The solo cellist in both cases is outstanding. From the point of view of the recording, this new version is more immediate and the Hyperion requires the volume to be turned up quite a few notches, but it does have a wonderfully ethereal and somewhat distant atmosphere.

The other items, as famous as they are in the choral music world, are much of a muchness and should not affect your ultimate buying decision. So I shall keep this new version and enjoy its rich luxuriance and on other occasions enjoy the Westminster recording for its more austere atmosphere and mystery.

Gary Higginson

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