Spring 2012

Fauré and Duruflé in Douai double requiem

DOUAI ABBEY, Woolhampton, hosted South Chiltern Choral Society’s spring concert on Saturday, March 24 for the first time. Many attendees were also making their acquaintance with this breathtaking fusion of ancient and modern architecture. View images.

The abbey’s duality was mirrored by the programme — a double dose of French requiem masses by Duruflé and Fauré, both sympathetically directed by Gwyn Arch.  Soloists were Helen Winter, soprano, and James Gilbert, baritone, the organist was Robert Jones and, in lieu of an orchestra, a chamber ensemble, devised by David Hill especially for the Fauré, comprised Lynette Padfield, violin, Lorna Taylor, cello and Jenny Broome, harp.

The Duruflé Requiem filled the first half, following an introductory organ piece — Sicilienne from Duruflé’s own Suite, Op. 5. Adjusting to the distance between ourselves and the performers, partly obscured by an imposing stone altar, we were treated to a gentle Introit & Kyrie, whose immediate reminder of Gregorian chant was in keeping with the monastic setting and imbued its voluminous, yet muted acoustic with a sense of former times. There were long, undulating organ phrases, full of subtle dynamics.

The baritone’s solo entry in the Offertory, his timbre well suited to the French libretto, left us in no doubt as to the Gallic nature of the feast. The choir meanwhile were mostly on top of a somewhat unsympathetic score, showing just one or two signs of uncertainty. However, the overall effect achieved was one of controlled restraint, which suited the work perfectly. Pie Jesu, sung chorister-like by the soprano, was engagingly performed and exquisitely accompanied by the lone cello. Other highlights included the chant-like Lux Aeternam, with its humming tenors and basses, while the chant by the small group of sopranos in the closing In Paradisum was a clear pointer to Fauré’s influence in the work. The final lines had a satisfying texture and were beautifully controlled right up to the wire.

The Fauré, outclassing Duruflé, propelled us to an altogether higher plane. Its compelling musical invention and haunting melodies, especially in this historic abbey location, were an inspiration. The choir demonstrated their commitment in the opening Introit & Kyrie and were later clearly transported by the Agnus Dei and its glorious sweeping melody. The Libera Me found them in harness with the baritone, who sang with authority, drawing a positive response from the choir and some of the best chorus material of the evening. The violin, cello and harp were employed predominantly in the Offertory, Sanctus and In Paradisum. The harp and cello were especially effective in the Offertory, complemented by some fine choral soprano singing at the end. The Sanctus and Agnus Deo gave the violinist some luscious material to work with, an opportunity she did not hesitate to seize.

A slightly slower than usual rendering of the Pie Jesu was the centrepiece of the work. It was very well sung by the soprano, with excellent control and a particularly beautiful ending. She featured again in the final In Paradisum, together with the organ, cello and violin, following which the chorus crept in discreetly to bring the requiem to a magical close.

South Chiltern Choral Society’s next concert is on July 14 at Highdown School, Emmer Green, and is very different, entitled Zimbe “Come, Sing The Songs Of Africa!” plus folk songs from all over the world. Times are 5pm and 8pm. Not to be missed.

Trevor Howell

Back to past concerts.

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