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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Complete Organ Works
Fugue sur le Thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons, Op 12 (1962) [3:15]
Méditation, Op Post (1964) [3:51]
Prélude et Fugue sue le Nom d’Alain, Op 7, (1942) [12:16]
Scherzo, Op 2 (1926) [5:58]
Prélude sue l’Introit de L’Épiphanie, Op 13 (1961) [2:19]
Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le Thème du ‘Veni Creator’, Op 4 (1926/1930) [19:54]
Chant Donné Hommage à Jean Gallon (1953) [1:41]
Suite, Op 5 (1932) [24:07]
Thomas Trotter (organ)
rec. March 2020, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge

For this recital of the complete organ music of Maurice Duruflé, Thomas Trotter returns to his alma mater: he was appointed Organ Scholar at King’s in 1976, joining a stellar list of musicians who have held that post.

As I commented a couple of years ago, when reviewing Richard Gowers’ recording for this label of Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur, the Harrison & Harrison organ in King’s College Chapel is essentially an English Romantic instrument, but I didn’t see that as a bar to playing Messiaen on it and the same is true when it comes to Duruflé’s music. It’s true that French organs have a unique timbre, especially Cavaillé-Coll instruments, but once a composer has sent a piece out into the world it becomes (provided musicians take it up) universal. So, just as no one should object to hearing Tchaikovsky played by a British orchestra so it’s just as appropriate to hear French organ music played on a British organ. And that’s especially so when, as we shall see, the sonic results on this present recording are first class.

All that said, I must register one grumble. The booklet accompanying this CD includes excellent notes by David Gammie and there’s also the usual artist biography and some nice photographs of the organ. However, there’s not a word about the organ itself and I find that a major omission in a package such as this. It’s all the more regrettable since the Harrison & Harrison organ, which in its present form dates from 1934, underwent a significant restoration as recently as 2016. Some information about the instrument and, ideally, a specification, should have been provided. It sounds in very fine fettle on this disc.

Maurice Duruflé had a long career but he wrote very few compositions. In part, his small output can be attributed to the fact that, by his own admission, he found the task of composition burdensome. However, David Gammie draws our attention to another factor. In 1929 Duruflé was appointed organist titulaire at the Parisian church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. You might have thought that for an organist-composer this was a post which would have set him up for life; and, indeed, he retained the post until his death. But, as Mr Gammie says, “the appointment was not all that it seemed”. The organ was in a very poor state of repair when he arrived and was being repaired by someone who botched the job. The instrument was dismantled in 1938 and even when the new organ was completed some two decades later it was a disappointment. It wasn’t until 1975 that a proper job was done on the organ but by then Duruflé’s health was failing. Gammie surmises that this was a key reason why Duruflé largely forsook organ composition after the early 1930s. What a shame.

So, Duruflé’s organ output can be accommodated on a single CD. It’s good to hear the short pieces, all of which Thomas Trotter brings off extremely well, none more so than the Scherzo, which the composer dedicated to one of his teachers, Tournemire. Trotter gives a simply delightful performance of this work. There’s a good deal of puckish, dancing music, which here sounds brilliant and playful. These episodes contrast with some mysterious sections which sound slower, but which I suspect are in the same tempo, the apparently slower speed arising from extended note values. It’s a super little piece and I loved the sparkling performance.

But three substantial works command our attention. The first of these is Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le Thème du ‘Veni Creator’. In the first two sections, the thematic material derives from the ancient hymn, ‘Veni, Creator spiritus’, though I must admit that in the ‘Prélude’ I don’t find the references to the melody all that easy to discern; they are cunningly hidden in plain sight. This first section is subtle and intriguing. In the pensive ‘Adagio’ the thematic references are rather easier to spot. From about 4:40 Trotter builds the music to a thrillingly imposing climax before (at 6:09) we hear the glorious revelation of the full hymn. Trotter does this revelation splendidly; it’s a real release of tension. The third section includes three short variations, all well distinguished from each other, before Duruflé unleashes a concluding toccata. This episode fairly blazes in Trotter’s hands (and feet) and the very end of the piece is terrifically exciting.

Prélude et Fugue sue le Nom d’Alain is Duruflé’s tribute to his fellow composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940), written after Alain had been killed in the battle of Saumur. It’s probably Duruflé’s best-known organ piece. In the ‘Prélude’ Trotter exploits the tonal resources of the King’s organ most inventively. I especially admire the skill with which he articulates the sparkling fast triplets on the manuals (right hand). He also brings out the allusions to Alain’s Litanies very effectively. The ‘Fugue’ is magnificent and culminates in a glorious, majestic account of the last couple of minutes.

The Suite, composed in 1932, is surely Duruflé’s finest organ work, even if the Alain work is more widely known. If you don’t subscribe to that opinion, I venture to suggest that Thomas Trotter’s performance will make you change your mind. There are three movements. First comes ‘Prélude’. Trotter’s spooky, oppressive playing at the very start tees us up nicely for the very powerful, deeply-felt music that follows. I doubt that Duruflé penned any music that was more intense than this movement and Trotter’s account of it is utterly compelling. The music sounds superb, with the full majesty of the King’s organ deployed; the potency of the pedal division is especially noteworthy. Contrast comes in the shape of ‘Sicilienne’. This tranquil, lovely movement is beautifully done, the performance replete with many ear-catching textures and sonorities. The final movement is ‘Toccata’. It’s a superb, brilliant movement. Trotter’s performance is brim-full of energy and he meets all the many virtuoso challenges head on. What an exciting way this is, not only to end this programme, but also to show off the King’s organ.

This is as fine an organ disc as I’ve heard in ages. Thomas Trotter’s virtuoso playing and wonderful musicianship make this a special experience. His performances are unfailingly stylish and full of understanding. Happily, his playing has been captured in marvellous sound by engineer Benjamin Sheen. The sound has impact and presence. In addition, there’s plenty of clarity, as we hear, for example, in the opening piece, Fugue sur le Thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons, where the music played on the manuals is all (risking a pun) clear as a bell. When I listened to this recording through Monitor Audio loudspeakers it sounded very handsome. But when I switched to Beyerdynamic headphones it was as if I had been enveloped in the sound of the organ. Through headphones, the fugue in the Suite is absolutely spectacular. But this isn’t just a disc that packs a sonic punch: Thomas Trotter and Benjamin Sheen ensure that the many quiet, nuanced passages of music come off just as well.

Maurice Duruflé’s organ music has been exceptionally well served on this CD.

John Quinn

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