Duruflé Requiem

Duruflé Requiem / Pärt Berliner Messe

Saturday 20 October 2012
St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

Christopher Finch - Conductor
Marta Fontanals-Simmons - Soprano
Andrew Mahon - Baritone
Nigel Nash - Organ

Concert Order

(Scroll down or click a composer's name to view programme notes...)

Ola Gjeilo   Ubi Caritas
Maurice Duruflé   Toccata, Organ Suite, Op. 5
Arvo Pärt Berliner Messe
      I. Kyrie (Choir)
      II. Gloria (Choir)
      III. Alleluia 1 (Choir, Mezzo Soprano and Baritone Solos)
      IV. Alleluia 2 (Choir, Mezzo Soprano and Baritone Solos)
      V. Veni Sancte Spiritus (Choir)
      VI. Credo (Choir)
      VII. Sanctus (Choir)
      VIII. Agnus Dei (Choir)
Maurice Duruflé   Requiem
      I. Introit - Requiem Aeternam (Choir)
      II. Kyrie eleison (Choir)
      III. Offertory - Domine Jesu Christe (Choir and Baritone Solo)
      IV. Sanctus - Benedictus (Choir)
      V. Pie Jesu (Mezzo Soprano solo and cello : George Owen)
      VI. Agnus Dei (Choir)
      VII. Communion - Lux aeterna (Choir)
      VIII. Libera me (Choir and Baritone Solo)
      IX. In Paradisum (Choir)

Programme Notes

Ubi Caritas     Ola Gjeilo (b 1978)

Presently working in the USA, Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo (b.1978) studied composition at the Julliard School of Music in New York from 2001. He performs regularly as a pianist specialising in improvisation, and his compositions are performed across the globe with increasing frequency. The recent CD ‘Northern Lights', a selection of his choral works performed by the highly regarded American choir ‘Phoenix Chorale' has received critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

The text of ‘Ubi Caritas' has traditionally been used as an antiphon on Maundy Thursday. The Gregorian chant associated with this text has been dated from as early as the 6th century and has been quoted in many subsequent settings of this antiphon. The opening of Gjeilo's composition evokes the spirit of the Gregorian chant without directly ‘borrowing' from it. The composer has created a sound-world that appears to be both distinctively modern and yet still medieval, through the music's initial simplicity and through its gradually unfolding harmonic depth and colour.

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Toccata, Organ Suite, Op 5     Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986)

Duruflé's Suite, Op. 5 (1933), is dedicated to Paul Dukas, and the Toccata calls to mind a wild Spanish dance. He visited London in 1938 at the request of the Organ Music Society to play his Suite at Christ Church, Woburn Square, and supplied the following note about the work. The Toccata, which is in ternary form, begins with a short introduction, which is preparatory to the entry of the rhythmic and vigorous principal theme, which is given to the pedals. In the middle section, a second theme appears and is later combined with the first.

It is well known that Duruflé was dissatisfied with the Toccata and, as with many of his works, made revisions to the score which here included writing a completely new ending. He found the first theme inadequate, and his widow later refused to play the piece! However this most demanding Toccata has been described by many organists as ‘one of the best examples - if not the best and most satisfying - of the many French movements of its kind'.

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Berliner Messe     Arvo Pärt (b 1935)

Arvo Pärt's music has touched many listeners' hearts in recent years with its arresting amalgam of asceticism and ecstasy. There seems to be something inherent in his music's expressivity that speaks directly and powerfully to a contemporary audience.

Having been born in Paide, a small town near Tallinn in 1935, the 50 year occupation of his native Estonia by the Soviet Union from 1944 had a profound effect on his life and music - eventually leading to his own exile to Berlin in 1980. Since leaving Estonia, Pärt has concentrated on setting religious texts, which have proved popular with choirs and ensembles around the world.

The very compositional techniques he uses can be read as religious symbols, and the care with which he applies them enhances the profound reverence that the work conveys. The self-styled compositional technique "Tintinnabuli" utilizes paired lines: the first (the Mvoice) predominantly scalic melodic material is balanced by a second homophonic voice (the T-voice) that is largely restricted to tonic chord tones beneath and above the melodic line. The effect is striking: an atmosphere of absolute harmonic stability filled with colourful and irregular dissonances. Pärt himself associates the M-voice with things mortal and carnal, like temptation, sin, and death, whilst the purity of the T-voice has divine connotations, suggesting redemption, immortality, and godliness.

This striking compositional approach is heard through the course of Pärt's Berliner Messe, first composed during 1990, upon a commission from the 19th Deutsche Katholikentag that was celebrated that year in Berlin. For that occasion Päk;rt had scored his Messe &dlquo;for SATB choir or soloists and organ.” His revision of this original version was published in 1997. The text follows the standard church liturgy, with two notable additions: after the Gloria, Pärt first adds a set of “Alleluia Verses,” followed by a setting of “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” a sequence usually heard in the context of the Roman Catholic Mass for Pentecost. Known as the “Golden Sequence,” it is a spiritual poem of exceptional depth and beauty. While its author is unknown, recent scholarship points to the late (d.1228) Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.

Pärt sets the Kyrie and Gloria texts in contrasting fashion, the two approaches creating an overall mood of undifferentiated and coolly glowing ecstatic contemplation and detachment, the Gloria offering a more forward-moving and energetic pace than the contemplative and beseeching Kyrie.

The central Veni Sancte Spiritus has men's and women's voices each in two parts calling and responding to one another, with occasional moments of conjoining vocal lines, all accompanied by sighing figurations and a grounding pedal tone. All the voices join for only one verse, the second-to-last, where the translated text is, “Grant to thy faithful/Trusting in thee/Thy sacred sevenfold mystery.”

The Credo is of a quite different character, owing to its origins in Pärt's 1977 Summa. The music is brighter, more fulsome, with the accompaniment existing within a circumscribed set of particular pitches and occasionally (almost) straying into commentary. The overall effect created is (again, almost) cheerful, though a dramatic pause after “...passus et sepultus est” (“...suffered, and was buried”) darkens the mood.

A return to the more chaste, inward-looking and undeclarative setting of text is heard in the Sanctus and Benedictus. Even both Osannas are quietly and briefly expressed without a hint of exultancy. High pitches sounded from the organ create an otherworldly calm for the ensuing Agnus Dei, and the voices, also quite high, sing in imitative phrases between the men and women. The third and final verse is set lower than the first two, with the four voice parts now asked to sing together, tellingly imploring peace: Dona nobis pacem.

Programme note by John Erhlich (amended by CF)

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Requiem     Maurice Duruflé

Maurice Duruflé was born in Normandy at the beginning of the twentieth century. His early education as a chorister at the Cathedral in Rouen introduced Duruflé to Gregorian chant, a style of music that became an important influence on his own compositional style. He was known as a virtuoso organist and improviser of international repute. His studies at the Paris Conservatoire with Gigout and Dukas began in 1920; remarkably the same year that Fauré retired as director of that institution.

He found composition a laborious process involving constant revision and impeccable craftsmanship. Such was his fastidious pursuit of perfection that only fourteen opus numbers are used to catalogue his works. Many of Duruflé's compositions have been lost due to the composer deeming them unsatisfactory and burning the manuscripts. Unlike his friend Olivier Messian, Duruflé chose to turn his back on the Avant-garde movement that was so de rigueur in Europe during the early and mid twentieth century. Instead he developed a compositional language that drew extensively from plainsong and modal harmony.

Duruflé''s subtle and expressive Requiem demonstrates a personal and introvert reading of the requiem texts in stark contrast to the fiery and monumental settings by Berlioz and Verdi. In common with Fauré, Duruflé omitted the highly dramatic day of judgement text, Dies irae, and replaced it with the serene and comforting In paradisum taken from the burial service.

This Requiem exists in three versions: The first supported by a large orchestra, the second with solo organ accompaniment, and the third scored for voices, organ, strings and ad libitum trumpets, harp and timpani. It is the second version that is performed tonight, which will showcase the majestic organ of St. Mary Redcliffe.

Duruflé's comments on his own composition are extremely illuminating:

“Completed in 1947, my Requiem is built entirely from the Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead. At times, the text is paramount, and therefore the orchestra intervenes only to sustain or to comment; at other times an original musical fabric, inspired by the text, takes over completely - notably in the Domine Jesu Christe, the Sanctus, and the Libera me. In general, I have attempted to penetrate to the essence of Gregorian style, and have tried to reconcile as far as possible the very flexible Gregorian rhythms as established by the Benedictines of Solesmes with the exigencies of modern notation.”

“As to the musical form of each of these pieces, it is dictated simply by the form of the liturgy itself. The orchestra plays a merely episodic role; it intervenes not to support the chorus but to underline certain rhythms, or to soften momentarily the too human orchestral sonorities. It represents the idea of comfort, faith and hope.”

Programme note by Christopher Finch

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