Movement 1: Introitus
Movement 2: Kyrie
Movement 3: Domine Jesu Christe
Movement 4: Sanctus
Movement 5: Pie Jesu
Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Charles Tunnell (cello), English Chamber Orchestra, Matthew Best (conductor)
Aaron Webber (treble), Natalie Clein (cello), Westminster Cathedral Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor)
Movement 6: Agnus Dei
Movement 7: Lux aeterna
Movement 8: Libera me
Movement 9: In paradisum
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. Duruflé sets largely 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 its 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 is 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 end 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 rescored his Requiem, and it is the so-called ‘middle version’, published in 1961, that is recorded here. It was 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 the best version of Duruflé’s 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.
from notes by Wadham Sutton © 1989