DURUFLÉ Complete Choral Works
There are just four extant choral works by Maurice Duruflé, which, by good fortune, are easily accommodated on a single CD. Bearing in mind that every one is a supreme masterpiece and each is firmly embedded in the repertory of most leading choral groups, this latest recording of Duruflé’s complete choral works faces some pretty stiff competition.
The unique selling point here is the highly polished, virtually flawless sound of the Houston Chamber Choir. Here is a group that clearly enjoys the art of choral singing and in Robert Simpson they have a director whose focus on producing a superbly homogeneous sound makes for warm, comfortable listening. Whether that’s quite what Duruflé’s music needs is another matter, and I suspect were the disc to be devoted to the music of Palestrina, Wesley, Pärt or Whitacre, it would all sound much the same as this.
Simpson certainly shows sensitivity towards the ebb and flow of Duruflé’s long, chant-based lines, which gives a rich, seamless quality to the Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens. And while we can mostly sit back and luxuriate in the sumptuous choral tone for its own sake, the female voices produce a surprisingly supple and agile account of the second motet, ‘Tota pulchra es’.
The Houston men seem strained at the start of the Messe Cum jubilo but Simpson has two aces up his sleeve. The first is the Panamanian baritone Eduardo Tercero, whose pure voice and open-eyed sincerity ideally complement his fine sense of balance between high drama and deep introspection. The second is organist Ken Cowan, who brings more than enough colour to compensate for the slightly monochrome sound of the choir.
Duruflé’s Impressionistic tendencies have rarely been so powerfully evoked than here, as Cowan draws on a continually shifting palette of light and shade, subtle colours and almost imperceptible shifts in tone. He certainly adds real distinction to this performance of the Requiem.
Nevertheless, this is a recording that will be of interest primarily to those who enjoy good choral singing. For perceptive interpretations of Duruflé’s music, both Richard Marlow and James O’Donnell are more obvious choices.