Donald Runnicles specialises in performances of requiems. At least this impression could arise if you look back on the Philharmoniker concerts the Scottish conductor conducted since 2003: he had already conducted the requiems by Benjamin Britten, Hector Berlioz and Johannes Brahms. This time, the general music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin conducts 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 orchestral 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.