Classical CD Reviews

DURUFLE: Requiem (organ version); POULENC: Praises of St. Anthony of Padua; MESSIAEN: O Sacrum convivium – Patricia Fernandez, mezzo-sop./ Michel Bouvard, organ/ Les Elements/ Joel Suhubiette – Hortus

A fine rendition of a work that deserves its own spotlight.

Published on June 2, 2013

DURUFLE: Requiem, Op. 9 (organ version); POULENC: Praises of St. Anthony of Padua; MESSIAEN: O Sacrum convivium – Patricia Fernandez, mezzo-sop./ Michel Bouvard, organ/ Vocal ensemble Les Elements/ Joel Suhubiette – Hortus 1018, 50:38 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

It is unfortunate that Durufle’s Requiem so often gets paired with that of Faure. The two of them could not be any more different. Faure’s is enchanting, highly melodic—lots of big tunes—and essentially hits you over the head with its unremitting sense of optimism and beauty. Hearing this one after it is always a letdown to me. Durufle demands a whole lot more out of you. His work is based almost entirely on Gregorian chant from the Mass for the Dead. The tone and tenor of that music sets the tone for the entire Requiem, and the composer doesn’t stray one iota from what the chant allows him, emotionally speaking. This is a requiem of pure reverence and sincerity, and if we happen to get moved—which happens often—that is fine, but hardly mandatory.

The composer, always on the lookout for performance opportunities for the work (and it meant a lot to him, being dedicated to his father even though it was commissioned by a music publisher) created three versions of the work: one for organ alone, one for organ with string orchestra and optional trumpets, harp and timpani, and one for organ and full orchestra. In my opinion the middle option is the least viable and the weakest of the lot. The full version is best rendered by Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on a Telarc CD. This one, for organ accompaniment alone, is also highly successful in that the organ doesn’t try to mimic the orchestra but instead adds to the already intense flavor of a liturgical offering. Because the basis of this work is so steeped in chant, and the fact that, as did Faure, the Dies Irae is eliminated, the work is calmer than it might have been. And even the use of a mezzo, as here, is not always followed, though Patricia Fernandez is superb in the role on this recording.

As bonuses we get the rarely heard Praises of St. Anthony of Padua, the last of Poulenc’s a capella motets. The text is from the Office of St. Anthony and is set for men’s chorus only. The melodies in this music are quite impressive, rich with the composer’s patented harmonies.

Lastly we get the Corpus Christi antiphon written by Thomas Aquinas and set so effectively by Messiaen, O Sacrum convivium. This piece has become filler for innumerable discs so avid collectors will most likely have several already. This one is fine, nicely sung as are all the works on this disc, recorded in gracious sound with much expressivity and warmth.

—Steven Ritter

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