Review by Rainer Buhmann: Durufle Requiem

Sunday, Sept. 18th, 2022, Auckland Town Hall

Astor Piazzolla: Adios Nonino and Escolaso
Gabor Tolnay: Symphonie 2019 (World Premiere)
Maurice Durufle: Requiem Opus 9

The highlight of Bach Musica NZ’s spring concert on September 18th
at the Auckland Town Hall, Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, was preceded
by the two somewhat contrasting concert items of Astor Piazzolla’s
Astor Nonino and Escolaso and the world premiere of Hungarian
composer Gabor Tolnay’s ‘Symphonie 2019’.
With this critic’s mind-set fully prepared for the complexities of
Durufle’s seldom performed Requiem, the preceding works were
therefore anticipated with some apprehension.
These hesitations were, however, quickly removed by Stephanie
Poole’s distinct Accordion-virtuosity. The assured mastery of her
instrument melting with the rich sound of the orchestra ensemble
was something of a revelation! The music plausibly conveyed the
‘joie de vivre’ and passion of the South American mentality – as it was
in the sensitive hands of Stephanie Poole, who – following the
completion of her concert-item – then took her place in the alto section
of the Bach Musica NZ Choir.
The world premiere of Gabor Tolnay’s Symphonie 2019 also came
initially across as a bit of an enigma. Now in the hands of the full
orchestra, its forceful musical expression, however, quickly attracted
the audience’s full attention. Its compository lines demonstrated
urge, purpose and beauty. Intelligently built around Franz Liszt’s
adaptation of Fantasy and Fugue on the theme of B-A-C-H, its rich
and rather unique ‘major’ chords sometimes even evoked Wagnerian
connotations. The composer, present at the launching of his work,
was rightfully thanked by the audience with sustained applause.
Maurice Durufle’s Requiem is often brought into connection with the
Requiem of his French countryman, Gabriel Faure, as both works are
the creation of formidable French composers and organists with
their distinct styles of composition and rhetoric. There are almost 70
years between the emergence of both works – Faure’s Requiem in
1880 and that of Durufle in 1948 – and this initially as an organ version.
Their side-by-side existence is often explained along the
lines that Durufle’s work is considered a modernised descendant of
Faure’s creation, leading the listener into the 20th century of French
choral composition.
As an icon of its relevant era, the Durufle Requiem stretches from the
‘mortalite mystique’ of its ‘requiem aeternam’-introduction via its uninhibited
outcry of ‘libera eas’ and ‘hosanna in excelsis’ to the
peaceful and all-concluding ‘in paradiso’ – an emotional ‘tour de force’

  • a work calling out for outstanding interpreters, who are up to the
    Such musicians once again were found in Bach Musica NZ’s artists on
    Sunday afternoon. The Choir embraced this difficult work with
    bravura and sensitivity, with perception, skill and distinct musicality.
    A profound understanding of the work underpinned the variances of
    the Choir’s rich sound – in fortissimo as well as in their hushed
    Similar standards apply to the excellent Bach Musica NZ orchestra,
    once again under the assured leadership of concertmaster Yanghe Yu.
    The orchestra impeccably expressed and underlined the everchanging
    emotions of this demanding work, whose calibre of
    performance could only have been augmented by the inclusion of a
    Grand Organ, for which organist Maurice Durufle would obviously
    have made provisions in the original score. Undoubtedly, this
    instrument would have added to the work’s mysticism. Economics
    may, however, have forced Bach Musica NZ to choose an orchestral
    Robert Tucker’s cultivated baritone gave ‘hostia et preces’ a very
    believable, insightful expression. Elisha Hulton’s soulful and lyric
    mezzo-soprano provided a significant and restful pause from the
    work’s dramatic pace.
    Elizabeth Lau, Bach Musica NZ’s Deputy Music Director, stood in for
    Rita Paczian. She delivered a memorable concert-performance of the
    highest calibre. In guiding orchestra and choir through three
    contrasting works, Ms Lau demonstrated her own versatility and
    flair. Her secure guidance and generous artistic license provided for
    orchestra and choir, thus enabling them to give unrestrained and
    powerful renditions.
    Briefly returning to the Durufle concert-highlight, it has been
    established, that the composer dedicated his work to the memory of
    his father. His adoption of themes from the ‘Gegorian Mass for the
    Dead’, therefore establishes a link between his Requiem and the
    inevitable, eventual end of the human life – also highlighted by soloist
    Elisha Hulton’s haunting ‘Pie Jesu Domine’.
    With their concert-programming Bach Musica NZ therefore has
    unintentionally given a fitting and decidedly reverential tribute to the
    sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
    Rainer W. Buhmann