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Duruflé, Maurice: Requiem (CD) Hyperion 1995

Duruflé: Requiem (CD)


Composer: Maurice Duruflé
Conductor: James O’Donnell
Aaron Webber
Simon Keenlyside
Natalie Clein
Iain Simcock
Westminster Cathedral Choir
Label: Hyperion
Code: HMC90151517
Released: March 1995
Number of discs: 1
ASIN: B000002ZV7

Track Listing

1. Requiem (AW, SK, NC, IS & WCC)
2. Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens (WCC)
3. Notre père (WCC)
4. Mass ‘Cum jubilo’ (SK, IS,  WCC)

What the critics say

Roderic Dunnett for BBC Music Magazine

Performance: ****
Sound: ****
Westminster Cathedral Choir is on cracking form at present. Arguably it’s the 20th-century Franco-Flemish repertoire that suits it best (witness their Poulenc and Langlais, already on Hyperion).

At best, the boys produce the kind of inspired continental sound heard from Coventry Cathedral in its heyday, or from St John’s, Cambridge, under George Guest (who rightly made meaning and feeling priorities).

Vowels are periodically over-dark, and the odd exposed passage gets tight. The ‘Libera me’ accelerandi and final triplets don’t quite come off and, though the phrasing is good and the atmosphere tangible, the pace is just a bit too laid back in places. Aaron Webber, the solo treble, lacks puff, but, buoyed up by Natalie Clein’s cello, his curiously stylised vowels should melt you all the same.

Lower parts come splendidly into their own in the twenty-minute Mass for men’s voices; Iain Simcock’s organ accompaniments are like wafted incense. The motets are mostly (not uniformly) admirable. There are King’s and New College rival versions to weigh up, as well as the mixed-voice Corydon Singers (also on Hyperion). But there’s plenty to appeal in this one, and few will be seriously disappointed. The sound is attractive, though a little cramped here and there.

JBS, Gramophone, June 1995

Duruflê was not a prolific composer, and a substantial part of his output is contained in this single record. Despite its restrained and fastidious style, his writing has some very distinctive characteristics, such as an unfailing appreciation of the beauty of a well-knit choral texture and a liking for fluid movement in the accompaniment, a flow of sound which at first hearing may seem to defy definition, like the shading of an impressionist’s brush, but which is soon found to be subtly rhythmical, with perpetual changes of time-signature and a use of syncopation that keeps the whole thing alive with a kind of subdued excitement. Another characteristic which tends to evade recognition in the impressionist haze is a refined but potent feeling for drama. This is also present in the Requiem and the lesser-known Mass, and it is a feature well brought out in this recording.

Westminster Cathedral Choir have of course always had their own sound, with more tang to the trebles than used to be found in most Anglican cathedrals (though they quite commonly incorporate something of it nowadays). Here they have music that calls for just such an admixture of colours, as one recognizes when comparing this present recording of the four unaccompanied motets with the earlier one by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. The careful blend and gentle timbre of the women’s voices in the Cambridge choir have a beauty of their own, but there is much more flavour (and French flavour too) in the Westminster trebles. On the other hand, in the Mass it is the Trinity recording that has the stronger rhythmic definition, as for instance in the opening of the Gloria. This is a work for organ and men’s voices, and in all other respects the Westminster performance is fine, with a clean homogeneity of tone and much effective registration on the part of the organist.

Simon Keenlyside is the baritone soloist in both the Mass and the Requiem, the strong opera-house resonance of his voice contributing its own dash of enriching coloration. In the Pie Jesu Aaron Webber sings well with the lovely addition of Natalie Clein’s solo cello to the accompaniment. It is comparatively rare among the Requiem’s many recordings to find one with organ accompaniment only. The identity of the work as church music is probably best preserved in this form, and at Westminster Cathedral church music has never meant anything drably `churchy’: the dramatic splendour of this music is as naturally at home here as are the gentle ebb and flow we remember as most characteristic.

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