Friday 6 November, 8:00 pm
Winchester Cathedral Quire

Maurice Duruflé - Requiem
Frank Martin
- Mass for unaccompanied double choir

Alexandra Stevenson (Mezzo-soprano)
Timothy Parsons (Organ)

Katherine Dienes-Williams - Musical Director

Tickets £16 (concessions £14; children 17 and under £5)

Review (submitted to the Hampshire Chronicle)
Just two beautiful and very atmospheric works made up Southern Voices’ programme in Winchester Cathedral’s Quire. Swiss-born Frank Martin’s
Mass for Double Choir and Maurice Durufle’s Requiem belong to the twentieth century but both are rich in tonal and modal harmonies and long melodic lines. Occasional syncopations feel more modern as is the adventurous writing for the organ accompanying the Requiem. Elsewhere there is an over-riding ethereal quality to this music enhanced by references to plainsong chant in the Durufle and pseudo-chant in the Martin.

Southern Voices had enough strong singers to achieve good balance and contrast in the eight-part setting of the Mass. Entries were confident, notably in the intricate, imitative
Et resurrexit section of the Credo, and dynamics ranged from warm pianissimos to thrilling climaxes. It was hugely satisfying to hear this rarely performed and demanding piece in such a spacious environment.

Throughout the evening the men’s voices produced consistently sonorous blend at all dynamic levels and with firm basses under-pinning the tuning of the whole ensemble. The more familiar
Requiem was remarkable for the precise co-ordination achieved between the singers in front of the High Altar and the agile organist, Paul Provost, situated at the other end of the Quire. His treatment of the exacting accompaniment was both colourful and accomplished, complementing the nuanced interpretations of the choir and following every direction of conductor Katherine Dienes-Williams. The central Pie Jesu was in the capable hands of guest soloist Alexandra Stevenson whose resonant mezzo-soprano timbre was ideal for this venue.

(by Derek Beck)

About this concert
This programme consisted of two fine and well-crafted settings of the Mass - one, a Mass for the dead, the Requiem Mass set to music by French composer Maurice Duruflé and the other, a Mass setting by Swiss-born composer Frank Martin.

Alex Ross writes of Martin’s Mass: "It was written back in 1922, well before Stravinsky's 'Symphony of Psalms' made it fashionable for French speaking composers to strike a monkish pose. It sounds like a Renaissance mass lost in time, aware nonetheless of long centuries passing and new horrors unfolding." The Martin Mass, with its lush, luminescent harmonic language, shows an almost tender response to the text, full of both yearning and exultation in almost equal measure.

Duruflé's declared intention was 'to reconcile, as far as possible, Gregorian rhythm…with the exigencies of modern meter.' In this work, larger metric patterns emerge from rhythmic adjustments, and through a frequent shift of meter, a sense of spontaneity is preserved. It is perhaps the unique quality of the plainchant clothed in a beautiful harmonic framework which gives this work its deep meaning and integrity - a testament to his faith and a vision of the eternal.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these pieces is that in both cases, the composers had to be persuaded to allow them to see the light of day.

Duruflé felt his Requiem Mass setting was not fit for purpose and wanted to throw it away. Friends persuaded him of its integrity and value and hence he was persuaded to keep it. Likewise, Martin said of his own work (which was written in 1922 with an Agnus Dei added in 1926) "I did not want it to be performed....I consider it ... as being a matter between God and myself. I felt then that an expression of religious feelings should remain secret and removed from public opinion". It was Franz Brunnert, Director of the Bugenhagen Kantorei in Hamburg, who persuaded Martin to release it for publication in 1963.