The atmosphere in the Royal Festival Hall was subdued and sombre. Jérémie Rhorer made a brief dedication of the concert to the victims of the previous evening’s London Bridge attack. The Requiems by Maurice Duruflé and Gabriel Fauré are amongst the most contemplative and consoling of settings of the Catholic rite and here they reached a level of gravity and intensity that was truly moving.
The ethereal and shimmering opening of Duruflé’s Requiem (1947) hints at the influence of Debussy and Fauré as well as his friend Messiaen. Duruflé created a timeless idiom by fusing Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony with his entirely contemporary sensibility. He followed Fauré in the choice of texts, rejecting the drama and violence of the ‘Dies irae’ in favour of a vision of peace and hope. The basses of the Rodolfus Choir – supported by Philharmonia Voices – held their chant with confidence in the ‘Introit’, the higher voices floating with purity. Rhorer was conducting the original version of the Requiem (using full orchestra and organ, there are two revisions for smaller forces) giving scope for thrilling dynamic shifts and moments of theatre. Jean-Sébastien Bou gave a sensitive account of the baritone solo, and Elizabeth Watts’s ‘Pie Jesu’ was almost unbearably poignant, beautifully phrased, with dark-hued support from lower-strings.
In spite of the individuality of the Duruflé one cannot imagine that it could have existed without the Fauré, and both are masterpieces of spiritual expression, the latter suffused with a melodic sweetness that never cloys, The Rodolfus Choir captured this perfectly in the ‘Agnus Dei’ and the sopranos spun a golden ‘Lux aeterna’. Watts was radiant in her second ‘Pie Jesu’, and the final notes of ‘In Paradisum’ were sustained with tenderness.
There was an early-evening recital by the Philharmonia Chamber Players during which Heidi Krutzen and Samuel Coles impressed with their virtuosity and elegance. Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp and Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro provided an exquisite prelude to the choral works. Dave Heath’s Forest sat enigmatically between the French pieces, a mystical and lyrical homage to the embattled natural world, conveyed through jazz, folk and minimalism.