Saturday, 7 April 2012

Duruflé Cum Jubilo

Another day has come, so it's back to M. Duruflé! Duruflé is, of course, best known for his choral works - particularly the popular Requiem and the motet Ubi caritas

The Requiem, Op.9 was modelled on Fauré's lovely Requiem and shares its intimate spirit, though it's more dramatic (at times) than the Fauré ever was. As in the organ works that preceded it, the piece demonstrates its composer's mastery of the art of making plainchant magical by couching it in a gentle impressionism. The work weaves the traditional Gregorian chants for the requiem into all its movements. The Introit is an especially bewitching example, with its flowing accompaniment (either by organ or orchestra, depending on the version you are hearing) and its melodic mixing of men's voices chanting and women's voices answering with lovely harmonies. The women sing the chant at "Te decet", accompanied by wafting chords, before the voices join together for an enhanced reprise. There's a magical harmonic movement on "luceat" to listen out for. Gentle polyphony enters with the peacefully radiant Kyrie. The Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe begins with the organ/orchestra's tritone-rich depiction of the 'deep pit' and the presentation of the movement's main plainchant melody, which the women take up. The harmonies, again, are gorgeous and the atmosphere gentle. A full choral outburst at "Libera eas" is complemented by a declamatory flourish from the organ/orchestra and, showing the composer's range again, proves that a Janacek-like fieriness (as in the great Glagolitic Mass) is also possible from Maurice Duruflé. Characteristically, however, the movement returns to gentle beauty (plainchant, women's voices) soon after. The baritone solo at "Hostias" is similarly intimate and may make you think of the sweeter side of Messiaen. Women's voices return at the close. The Sanctus weaves another accompaniment of gentle fluidity beneath its beguiling invocations for softly glowing women's voices. The "Hosanna" is a full blaze of confident choral majesty which, of course, ends quietly. The Pie Jesu is a plangent soprano solo, very 'innig' in character - as Schumann might have put it. It traces an emotionally expressive arch that eventually dies away movingly to some very beautiful harmonies. The Agnus Dei returns us to the spirit of the Introit and achieves a Fauréan purity of expression that is enrapturing. The melodic and harmonic beauty to be found in this section makes it particularly special. The Lux aeterna opens with another lovely plainchant-like tune from the organ/orchestra which is then shown to be derived from the actual plainchant that follows from the sopranos, warmly supported by wordless chorus - which is again gorgeous. The Libera me supplies darker, chromatic harmonies for the opening prayer for deliverance and its chant melodies. Duruflé delivers a dramatic surge at "judicare saeculum per ignam" which packs quite a punch. At "Tremens factus sum" an urgent baritone solo is introduced and the "Dies illa" is set in a declamatory style whilst also cleaving ingeniously to plainchant. The movement's closing section, however, restores intimacy and light. As with the Fauré, the final In Paradisum is tender, intimate and touching. It's as bewitching as the Introit, featuring a gorgeous opening melody, incense-bearing harmonies and lovely textures. The organ/orchestra supplies a second lovely tune as a counter-melody to the mixed choir's closing section and the work ends on an unresolved chord that evokes eternal bliss. 

Ubi caritas is one of the Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens op.10 for a capella chorus. As you might guess from the title, this is another work based on Gregorian plainchant. By being unaccompanied, these short motets show the composer at his most restrained but are masterly and very attractive. The particular popularity of Uri caritas is not hard to explain. It's one of the gems of choral music, casting a sweet spell with its lovely melody, its tranquil mood and harmonies that mix the modal with the modern in that tasty way which French composers (also including Poulenc) pioneered but which now seems to have become the lingua franca of much contemporary church music in Europe and the U.S. What of its three companions? Well, Tota pulcra est is a lively number with a winning tune set against spry counter-melodies and bright climaxes with juicy clashing seconds. Tu es Petrus is very short but vibrant and surrounds the chant theme in imitative counterpoint. Finally, the beautiful Tantum ergo strikes an quiet note and seems to evoke the polyphony of the age of Palestrina.

Far less well known than either the Requiem or the Four Motets is the Messe Cum Jubilo op.11 which was composed as a celebratory counterpart to the Requiem - not that you would necessary guess that given the music's general sobriety. Its scoring is for male chorus (baritones!) with either organ or orchestral accompaniment (again depending on the version you are listening to). Why is it less often performed? Well, mainly because it fails to achieve the memorability of the Requiem. Still, there's plenty going for it. The opening Kyrie has much that we want from a Duruflé work, with its restrained yet always engaging mood, fluid accompaniment and flexible plainchant-inspired melodies. The Gloria shows that dramatic side of Duruflé's art again, though it remains generally gentle, and brings the qualities of the baritone voice to the fore. The Sanctus is surprisingly dark and inward-sounding, with its funereal tread and quietly dissonant accompaniment. The Benedictus for the solo baritone has a Messiaen-like quality in its harmonies (due to Duruflé's use of Messiaen's beloved octatonic scale) and floats like exquisite incense. The wonderful introductory bars of the Agnus Dei are the nearest the composer got to sounding like Jehan Alain. The Messe Cum Jubilo is never going to rival the Requiem in popularity (and don't deserve to) but it merits much more exposure than it currently receives.

There's just one more choral work by Duruflé to consider, Notre Père op.14. This is a sweet and simple piece for unison chorus and organ, setting the Lord's Prayer. Though its idiom doesn't seem quite so individual, its sheer loveliness more than makes up for that! With a lot of Classic FM exposure, it could become quite a favourite.

OK, that's the organ works and choral works. Only the chamber and orchestral works to go - and there aren't many of them! They will do for another another day though.

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