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Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Requiem for soloists, choir, organ and orchestra, Op. 9 (1947) [39:28]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Concerto Gregoriano for violin and orchestra (1921) [32:42]
Okka von der Damerau (mezzo-soprano), Ljubomir Puškaric (baritone)
Max Hanft (organ), Henry Raudales (violin)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Michael Gläser
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ivan Repušic
rec. live, March 2017, Herz-Jesu-Kirche, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900320 [72:10]

This BR Klassik release presents a fascinating programme. Duruflé’s Requiem and Respighi’s Concerto Gregoriano are two excellent works which at first sight might seem a rather unusual coupling. Nevertheless, there is a connection between the scores: both composers found inspiration in early sacred music, namely Gregorian chant.

Duruflé dedicated the Requiem to the memory of his father. The composer originally intended the piece for soloists, chorus and orchestra. That culminated in a concert version for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra with organ. Later followed an arrangement for choir and organ. In 1961 another arrangement was prepared for soloists, chorus and small orchestra with organ. Durufle said of his score: “Completed in 1947, my Requiem is entirely based on Gregorian chant from the mass of the dead.” He has successfully amalgamated text from the Roman Catholic mass of the dead with Gregorian themes and Baroque polyphony, and his own vivid and individual orchestration, into one glorious work that feels both successfully contemporary and spiritual.

On this live recording the unity, blend and balance of sound from the chorus and orchestra are exceptional, especially creditable in the Sanctus and Benedictus, and Lux aeterna providing a meltingly glorious sound world with an ideal measure of sacred sentiment and intimacy. The best-known movement, Pie Jesu, lives up to its reputation with an engaging interpretation of comfort and consolation. Despite some very slight unsteadiness at the outset, mezzo-soprano Okka von der Damerau produces an outstanding performance with strong projection, revealing a slight dark-edged tone in her lower register. The notable cello part, adeptly given by principal Uladzimir Sinkevich, adds significantly to the efficacy of the score. The organ effectively underpins the work. Compelling in the Domine Jesu Christe and Libera me is baritone Ljubomir Puškaric, a model of pious expression. Excelling throughout the Requiem with pleasing consistency and unity, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks has been ably prepared by the chorus master Michael Gläser. Under Ivan Repušic and his Bavarian forces this commendable performance of Duruflé’s masterwork is a genuine alternative to the classic 1959 recording on Erato (Warner Classics). That recording featured soloists Hélène Bouvier and Xavier Depraz, Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier (organ) with Chorales Philippe Caillard et Stéphane Caillat and Orchestre de l'Association des Concerts Lamoureux conducted by the composer.

Respighi was a noted musicologist. His music after around 1920 typically bore the influence of early music, especially from his Italian heritage that inspired him so much. This passion is exemplified by his renowned set of three orchestral suites Ancient Airs and Dances. His 1921 Concerto Gregoriano is occasionally encountered in concert programmes, the only one of his concertos to avoid almost virtual neglect. It was introduced the following year in Rome. The audience reception, although courteous, was rather cool, most likely owing to the work’s lack of bravura display and its prominent rather contemplative character. In the score, it has been suggested that the violin take the part of the religious leader or priest, with the orchestra serving as the congregation. One perceives that soloist Henry Raudales, playing a 1787 Guadagnini, is entirely engaged in the meditative temperament of Respighi’s writing. He conveys an overall sense of plaintive mystery. This fine performance by Raudales and the Munich players provides strong competition to the established 1993 Manchester account on Chandos, by Lydia Mordkovitch and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Edward Downes.

Taking up his post as chief conductor of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester as recently as the 2017/2018 season, Ivan Repušic, known primarily for his work in the opera house, ensures steadfast performances focusing on colour and detail. The recording was made at Herz-Jesu-Kirche in Munich. The engineering team excel, providing sound that has first-rate clarity and balance. Although it is a live performance, there is virtually no unwanted noise to worry about and the applause has been removed. The helpful essays “The Idea of Silence” (Duruflé) by Regina Back and “The Fascination of Gregorian Chant” (Respighi) by Doris Sennefelder provide welcome background to each work. While knowing the requiem mass quite well, I certainly do not know the Latin text in its entirety.This makes the absence of sung text with an English translation extremely disappointing.

It is hard to find fault with these performances. They serve Duruflé and Respighi admirably.

Michael Cookson



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