DURUFLE: Requiem*(3rd version for choir, small orchestra and organ); Quatre motets sur des themes gregoriens; Messe Cum Jubilo**; 4 pieces for organ – Fugue, Prélude, Chant donné, Méditation — Magid El-Bushra (countertenor)/ Peter Harvey (baritone)/ Martin Ford (organ*)/ English Sinfonia*/ Mark Chaundy (baritone)/ Richard Pinel (organ**) /The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford / Bill Ives – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU807480, 74:58 ****:
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was a highly respected teacher, organist and composer, and his recordings with Georges Prêtre of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 and Poulenc’s Organ Concerto are still highly regarded today. He was a meticulous composer, and tinkered with his works. publishing edited or newly arranged versions. He was a pupil of both Tournemire and Vierne, and a classmate of, among others, Messiaen, Langlais and Litaize.
The Requiem, perhaps his most well-known work, was first performed in 1947 with soloists, choir, orchestra and organ, then arranged in 1948 for choir and organ. The version on this SACD is the third version: for choir, small orchestra and organ, and was first heard in 1961. This performance has the choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, with boys taking the soprano part, and coping extremely well with some quite demanding writing, based on Plainchant for the Mass of the Dead. As Maurice Duruflé himself wrote: “The Requiem reflects Man’s anguish as he contemplates the ultimate mystery of life and death. The music is at times dramatic or filled with a sense of resignation, hope or fear, mirroring the words of the Scriptures which form the liturgy.” The orchestra and choir produce a rich sound, and in the Pie Jesu, the alto soloist Magid El-Bushra sings most beautifully, expressing the words very touchingly.
The organ works make excellent interludes in this programme, the Fugue being the earliest here dating from 1928 and written during an examination at the Conservatoire. The other works date from the 50s and 60s, the Méditation particularly effective in its simplicity.
The Four Motets on Gregorian melodies from 1961 are unaccompanied and the choir performs these polyphonic works with smooth texture and confidence, just a little strain in patches from the boys. and with much passion when needed.
The Messe Cum Jubilo from 1961 is for a chorus of baritones and organ, with a baritone soloist – another work based on Duruflé’s enthusiasm for Gregorian melody. Simplicity of texture allows the words to make an impact and the rich dark-brown sound of the baritones is effective.
Recorded in the chapel at Magdalen College, the high resolution DSD recording is spacious, yet clear, the small orchestra in the Requiem well balanced. The voices sound entirely natural, the soloists not closely miked. A high quality booklet contains all the texts as well as an excellent essay. This SACD is highly recommended.
— Peter Joelson