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Hyperion Records

CDA66191 - Duruflé: Requiem & Four Motets
Saint Riquier, Somme, 1972 by John Piper (1903-1992)
Lincolnshire County Council, Usher Gallery, Lincoln

Recording details: October 1985
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: February 1987
Total duration: 50 minutes 10 seconds


'For my money, remains the finest recorded version of this lovely work in any of its guises … strongly recommended' (Gramophone)

'The perfect team of soloists, a glorious sound from both choir and orchestra, a faithful re-creation of the score, and that special something which takes us beyond the notes on the page and creates an atmosphere which best fulfils Duruflé's vision of what a Requiem should be … everything about this performance is lovingly done and enhanced by recorded sound of demonstration class … I can think of few other choral recordings that are as consistently successful and uplifting as this' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A wonderfully sympathetic performance… a heavenly, visionary effect which is amazingly satisfying' (BBC Record Review)

Requiem & Four Motets
Kyrie  [3'56] GreekEnglish
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
For Maurice Duruflé composition was a slow, laborious process involving constant revision and impeccable craftsmanship. After sixty years only ten works had been published—one fewer than his teacher Paul Dukas, a similarly fastidious perfectionist. Unlike his friend and fellow-student Olivier Messiaen, Duruflé eschewed the avant-garde experimentation that might have resulted in a fashionable new language, choosing instead a retrospective stance, looking to plainsong for his inspiration, and great French composers—Debussy, Ravel, Fauré and Dukas—for his models. He was known to feel ‘incapable of adding anything significant to the piano repertory, view the string quartet with apprehension, and envisage with terror the idea of composing a song after the finished examples of Schubert, Fauré and Debussy’. Instead, Duruflé composed for his two favourite media, orchestra and organ (he was renowned as a virtuoso organist), and both are united in his largest and perhaps most important work, the Requiem of 1947.

Duruflé was working on a suite of organ pieces based on plainsong from the Mass for the Dead when the commission for the Requiem arrived from his publishers, Durand. The sketches already on his desk proved themselves an ideal starting point, the plainsong becoming the basis of the whole work, unifying it and breathing into it the timelessness and meditative spirituality that are its essence. The model is Fauré’s Requiem; but this is no mere imitation, rather a reworking within the structure and mood established by the older composer, born of admiration and respect. Fauré chose to break away from the examples typified by Berlioz and Verdi and their tragic, blazing images of hell-fire and heaven-storming grief. He omitted the Day of Judgement texts and concentrated instead on rest and peace, even going so far as to borrow the In Paradisum from the Burial Service. Duruflé sets the same texts as Fauré (although the division into movements is a little different, and he retains the Benedictus) and adopts a similarly restrained approach. Both use a baritone soloist in the Domine Jesu Christe and Libera me, and a mezzo-soprano for the Pie Jesu. Duruflé opens the work within the same tonality as Fauré, the Offertory with the same voices, and the Pie Jesu in an identical fashion. The structure of the Sanctus owes a huge debt to Fauré’s example, as do the Libera me and In Paradisum—yet the overall effect transcends the possible limitations of such a fine model, and gives us something very original.

The strength of Duruflé’s composition lies in it’s extraordinary fusion of disparate elements—plainsong, liturgical modality, subtle counterpoint, and the sensuous harmonies and refined scoring of Debussy, Ravel and Dukas. Duruflé’s often literal use of plainsong melody gives the work a great expressive and rhythmic freedom and results in a natural flow of both text and music. When seated within such colourful tonalities and underpinned with modal harmonies, the emotional impact is heightened, yet somehow the all-pervading tranquillity and spiritual optimism are maintained. The Introit flows smoothly, the plainsong rendered note for note, moving into the imitative entries of the Kyrie and its heartfelt pleas for mercy. In the Domine Jesu Christe the text is dramatically declaimed by the choir until Saint Michael leads them into the heavenly light and assures them of the promise of peace. The Sanctus takes the form of an instrumental moto perpetuo against which the voices are cleverly built into a climax (with orchestra) at ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ then subsiding, arch-like, to a peaceful conclusion.

The Pie Jesu is the physical and emotional centre of the work, a poignant and almost painfully beautiful setting of the plainsong for mezzo-soprano and solo cello, supported by harmonies rich in seconds and sevenths. The Agnus Dei moves us gently onward, yet without detracting from the atmosphere left by the preceding movement. Duruflé weaves an expressive counter-melody around the plainsong, thus avoiding any dryness of expression without affecting the delicacy of the scoring. More imaginative touches are found in the Lux aeterna—the vocalizing of the lower voices beneath the sopranos, and the unison chanting of ‘Requiem aeternam’ over changing chords. The Libera me brings lengthier development, and the dramatic climax of the whole work with the ‘Dies illa’; the last ‘Libera me’, like Fauré’s, is sung in unison to the end of the movement.

The final movement, In Paradisum, is an exquisite creation. The opening chords form an ethereal mist from which the sopranos emerge, finally at peace. The sensuous chords of the full choir add to the spiritual tranquillity, and the last chord, an unresolved dominant ninth, evaporates into eternity.

Duruflé twice re-scored his Requiem and it is the third, so-called ‘middle’ version, published in 1961, that we hear on this record. It is Duruflé’s last revision of the work and involves a reduction of the full orchestral score to singers, organ and a quintet of strings, with optional parts for one harp, two or three trumpets, and two, three or four timpani (in order of priority). In his preface to this reduced score Duruflé gives the following reasons for his revisions:

In practice it is rarely possible to assemble the full orchestra, choruses and organ in a church. The alternative, the reduction for solo organ (and choir), may prove inadequate in certain parts of the Requiem where the expressive timbre of the strings is needed. This intermediate version gives scope for the organ part to be incorporated in the texture or juxtaposed with other instruments.

In many ways this is an ideal version of the Requiem, preserving as it does the intimacy of the organ-only score and also the expressive and dramatic possibilities of the full orchestral score. Duruflé’s dynamic markings were chosen with a string section of twenty-two players in mind, as he considered this size to give the optimum balance of forces The composer’s recommendation has been followed for this recording, and the forces used are a string group of twenty-two (6-6-4-4-2), organ, harp, three trumpets and timpani. In addition, Duruflé specifies three points (in Domine Jesu Christe, Libera me and In Paradisum) where a smaller group of sopranos is preferable, and these suggestions have also been adopted here.

The Quatre Motets of 1960 are ideal companion pieces for the Requiem, each being based on the requisite Gregorian chant in the same way as the movements of the larger work. Here again Duruflé shows his particular genius for invoking the spiritual element of plainsong in a polyphonic context, while achieving a suppleness of rhythm akin to that of human prayer. Each motet is preceded by the plainsong from which it is derived. Ubi caritas et amor flows freely and syllabically in a meditative fashion, while Tota pulchra es (for women’s voices) is lighter and more sprightly, yet soft and feminine. Tu es Petrus is a rousing and optimistic work, the Church’s foundation on the rock of St Peter being indicated by the building of the motet on it’s canonic opening to a strong and sturdy final cadence. Tantum ergo returns us to the meditative, wistful style that characterises so much of the Requiem; the concluding ‘Amen’ settles as a sigh on this group of motets, crystallising as they do the essence of Duruflé’s considered, yet inspired musical language.

Andrew McGregor © 1986

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