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A History of the Requiem, Part III
Anton BRUCKNER (1824–1896)
(1848) [30.52] (1)
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902–1986)
Requiem (1947) [42.07] (2)
Benoit Mernier (organ) (2); Elke Janssens (soprano) (1); Penelope Turner (alto) (1); Roel Willems (tenor) (1); Armout Malfliet (bass) (1); Laudantes Consort/Guy Janssens
rec. (1) 11 November 2006, Provinciaal Museum Begijnhof Sint Triuden, Belgium; (2) 15 June, 16 September, 7 October 2007, Eglise Saint-Etieen, Braine-Alleud, Belgium. DDD
CYPRES CYP1654 [72.59]

Experience Classicsonline

This is the third in the Laudantes Consort’s four disc survey of requiems, one from each century. Previous discs in the series have mixed the common and the uncommon - Ockeghem and Lassus, Campra and Michael Haydn - and shown the choir to have chameleon-like abilities to get under the skin of the different styles. On this disc their nineteenth century choice is Bruckner’s early Requiem and their twentieth century choice is the Requiem by Duruflé.

Bruckner’s Requiem was written in 1848 when he was 24, though he revised it in 1854 and again in 1894. It is for choir, soloists and orchestra (strings and trombones). Stylistically it is determinedly old-fashioned, and unfortunately it rarely rises above its models. Frankly, if it wasn’t by Bruckner no-one would be very interested in it. Bruckner sets the Introit, Kyrie, Dies Irae, Offertory, Sanctus, Benedictus and Communion. It is the Benedictus which seems to offer the most promising material. There Bruckner seems to be able to transcend his models. Though the writing is competent and coherent, there are few glimpses of the mature Bruckner of the masses and symphonies.

Guy Janssens and his forces give the work a decent shot. This is, after all, a rare outing in the catalogue although Matthew Best and has Corydon Singers recorded it in 1988. The choir are accompanied by an orchestra playing on period instruments and overall they make a good clean, focused sound. I was less taken with the soloists. Neither Elke Janssens nor Penelope Turner is quite a match for Best’s casting of Joan Rodgers and Catherine Denley. Plus Roel Williams sounds frankly rather stressed by the tessitura of the part.

Janssens and his forces have paired Bruckner’s early work with Duruflé’s mature Requiem, written in 1947 when the composer was in his mid-forties. He was inspired by some organ paraphrases of the plainsong for the Mass of the Dead, and the work is suffused with plainsong. Duruflé created three versions of the piece, the first for chorus, orchestra and organ, the second for chorus and organ and the third for chorus, small orchestra and organ.

Colour is an important factor in the work. In the original version the organ plays only an episodic part, adding to the delicate and sophisticated instrumental colourations. This variegated feeling is, by and large, lost in the organ-only version which must be regarded as something of a second choice, created primarily for liturgical purposes.

For some inexplicable reason, it is this organ version which Janssens has chosen to record, despite the presence of a small orchestra for the Bruckner. It would have been possible to record the Duruflé in the composer’s third version with very similar forces to those used for the Bruckner, except that Janssens has opted for period instruments for the Bruckner.

If I was going to pick a recording of the organ version of the Duruflé, then high on my list would be that made in Durufle’s own church, St. Etienne du Mont, by Ian de Massini and the Cambridge Voices.

Colour and mystery are an essential part in a successful performance of the work. It is necessary for the organist to find a whole variety of colours in their instrument and for both singers and organist to generate a feeling of mystery. Unfortunately, the most prominent feature of this new recording would seem to be clarity and directness. Usually these would be virtues that I would laud, but in the Duruflé they are out of place.

Quite simply, Janssens and his singers just fail to generate the atmosphere of plainchant sung in the gloom amidst a swirl of incense. Theirs is a far clearer-sighted, less romantic performance and it may appeal to some people.

The disc was recorded in the church of St. Etienne, Braine-l’Alleud in Belgium. The organ there is one dating from 1915 by Van Bever. Though the Van Bever brothers worked in the grand romantic organ tradition, the organ part as played on this disc simply fails to sound adequately French to my ears. You cannot beat hearing the music played on a distinctively French instrument, preferably a Cavaillé-Coll.

Though it is not an ideal recording by any means, I have always had an admiration for the Naxos recording by the Ensemble Vocal Michel Piquemal and the Orchestre de la Cité under Michel Piquemal. This has the advantage that the choir sound as if they have been singing the work for ever; their feeling for the work’s atmosphere is very apposite.

There are more recommendable versions of both the works featured on this disc. If this combination does appeal to you, then the performances are creditable even if not ideal, but you will want other recordings of the works in your library as well.

Robert Hugill


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