Duruflé: Complete Choral Works

Houston Chamber Choir
Robert Simpson, artistic director
Ken Cowan, organ

This latest CD from Robert Simpson and his versatile Houston Chamber Choir is just what we have come to expect from them: beautiful, artistic singing and thoughtful, sensitive music-making at every turn.

Encompassing the entire choral output (ca. 69 mins.) of Maurice Duruflé, the disc opens with an arresting reading of the Messe “Cum Jubilo”—music too seldom performed or recorded—and gathers momentum as it proceeds. The men of the Choir hit their mark immediately; their impeccable unisons and meticulous balances, together with an almost effortless spinning-out of Duruflé’s long melodic lines, go far towards satisfying the musical demands of this striking work.

Plainly aware of Duruflé’s propensity to disregard his own markings (particularly with respect to tempo), the Houston ensemble’s rendition of “Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoríens” demonstrates considerable interpretive independence in its approach to both pacing (in “Tota Pulchra es,” for example) and rhythm (especially in “Ubi Caritas”).

Their account of the 90-second “Notre Père,” reminding us that great things can and do come in very small packages, is stellar, with not a millisecond slighted.

But it is the Houstonians’ account of the Requiem, a masterwork universally acknowledged, that will echo in my memory. Here is an inspiring instance of uncompromising craftsmanship married to heartfelt spirituality. The Choir’s gentle, humble approach, its meticulous balances and convincing pacing (with nothing ever rushed or over-sung) are enhanced by the rich and uplifting singing of soloists Cecilia Duarte and Eduardo Tecero—to say nothing of Norman Fischer’s glorious cello, the best of the best.

Undergirding the admirable technical work exhibited in this recording are a sincerity and sense of commitment that, subtly permeating the entire disc, raise it several notches of inspiration above all other realizations of Duruflé that I know.

Dale Warland

(13 April 2019)