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Maurice DURUFLE (1902-1986)
The Complete Organ Works
Fugue sur le thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons, Op. 12 [3:32]
Prélude sur l’introït de l’Épiphanie, Op.13 [2:35]
Scherzo, Op.2 [6:16]
Méditation [4:15]
Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le thème du ‘Veni Creator’, Op.4 [20:43]
Prélude et fugue sur le nom d’Alain, Op.7 [13:08]
Chant Donné – Hommage à Jean Gallon [2:17]
Suite, Op. 5 [23:12]
Francesca Massey (organ)
rec. 2019, Durham Cathedral, UK
PRIORY PRCD1230 [77:00]

Francesca Massey brings two special qualities to her survey of Maurice Duruflé’s complete organ works: some impressively clean and articulate fingerwork and the organ of Durham Cathedral. So central is Gregorian chant to Duruflé’s organ writing calls that it is easy to overlook his often complex contrapuntal lines, which often get subsumed within a kind of swirling, gloomy mist of incense-laden melodies. Massey’s performances certainly do not want for atmosphere, but driving it all along is a level of clear, precise articulation which exposes with coqunsiderable clarity the inner detail of the music. Perhaps that is not always to the music’s advantage – the Fugue on the Soissons Cathedral carillon has a relentless quality about it – but for the most part it adds a welcome transparency to music where the texture often seems very dark and gothic.

While the sound of a fine Father Willis - of which the Durham Cathedral instrument is a classic - is always a joy to behold, it does not always seem the ideal vehicle for the French Romantic repertory. However, unlike Vierne and Dupré, Duruflé’s organ music is not concerned with colour or quasi-orchestral effects, and, even more so than his contemporary, Messiaen, his music calls for nothing other than a resourceful organ to bring it to aural life. The crisp, bright Positive stops, which Massey sprinkles liberally about the programme, add a brittle, crisp edge, which perfectly suits her style of playing. These help to provide a focus for the more romantic sounds, and Priory’s finely detailed recording keeps things clear and bright. The contrast between the Positive and other organ divisions is most vividly revealed in the Prelude on Veni Creator.

There is surprisingly little direct competition for this new release. Surprising for, in addition to being a major part of the 20th century repertory for the instrument, Duruflé’s organ music has the great boon of being able to fit on a single CD without need for filler or omission. The most obvious competitor to Massey is from Stéphane Mottoul on Aeolus, but my all-time favourites are John Scott on Hyperion and best of all, Torvald Toren on Proprius, both of whom seem to get right into the heart of Duruflé’s distinctive sound-world. Unfortunately both of these date from the 1980s (1989 and 1981 respectively) and so pre-date the posthumous publication of the Méditation and the general acceptance that the Chant Donée, taken from a series of 64 Leçons d'Harmonie compiled in 1953 by students of Professor Jean Gallon, although not originally intended as such, works perfectly well on the organ. One might look elsewhere for outstanding performances of some of the bigger works, but as a complete survey of Duruflé’s organ music, Massey’s performances are most creditable and highly enjoyable.

My review copy of the disc has the timings confusingly misaligned on the back cover, but this is a disc which has a beautifully timeless quality about it.

Marc Rochester

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