Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem – conducted here by Donald Runnicles – is among those sacred works that convey a notion of a better world beyond. Echoes of Gregorian chant are mixed with scintillating impressionist colours to create a magical and ethereal whole. The remaining programme consisting of works by Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen is also French and transcendental.
La Damoiselle élue
Requiem op. 9
Donald Runnicles specialises in performances of requiems. At least this impression could arise if you look back on the Philharmonic concerts the Scottish conductor has conducted since 2003: he has already conducted the requiems by Benjamin Britten, Hector Berlioz and Johannes Brahms. This time, the General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin will apply himself to Maurice Duruflé’s requiem.
The work is the best-known creation of the French composer, who was one of his country’s great organists in the 20th century. Duruflé, who studied with Louis Vierne and Paul Dukas, was inspired in his requiem by the Gregorian melodies of the Catholic liturgy, which he in some cases quotes in the original and drapes in very subtle sounds. By this means he created a vocal composition of suggestive character – archaic, transcendent, consolatory. And the work makes one thing very clear: Duruflé’s musical language is rooted not only in Gregorian chant, but also in French impressionism.
The programme begins with a work by Duruflé’s contemporary and colleague Olivier Messiaen: Hymne. Like Duruflé, Messiaen was also an organist. The Catholic church, the liturgy and piety also strongly shaped his musical oeuvre. The torchestral composition, an early work by Messiaen, has a sacral character and is characterised by a richly coloured, atmospherically dense musical language. Claude Debussy’s poetic cantata La damoiselle élue is another early work. While in this work the young composer is still under the influence of Richard Wagner’s music, Debussy’s personal style is already apparent.