Thursday 6 April 2023

Clarity & suppleness: Frank Martin's Mass & Maurice Duruflé's Requiem from the Maîtrise de Toulouse

Frank Martin: Mass for Double Choir, Maurice Duruflé: Requiem; Maîtrise de Toulouse, Conservatoire de Toulouse, Mark Opstad, Juliette May, Alain Buet, William Fielding; Regent Records
Frank Martin: Mass for Double Choir, Maurice Duruflé: Requiem; Maîtrise de Toulouse, Conservatoire de Toulouse, Mark Opstad, Juliette May, Alain Buet, William Fielding; Regent Records

An engaging clarity, suppleness, fluidity and flexibility in this new recording from the children's choir based at Toulouse Conservatoire.

The Maîtrise de Toulouse was founded in 2006 by the Anglo-French conductor, Mark Opstad within the Conservatoire de Toulouse. The children, aged 11 to 15, provide the top two lines with older members on tenor and bass supported by professional adult singers. The choir is unusual amongst the French Maîtrises in that the children are entirely educated within the Conservatoire as in the English choir school model.

On this new disc from Regent Records, Mark Opstad conducts the Maîtrise de Toulouse in Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir, and Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, with mezzo-soprano Juliette May, a former member of the Maîtrise, baritone Alain Buet and William Fielding (organ), plus Jérôme Cuvillier (cello). 

Martin's Mass is recorded in the 2014 Bärenreiter Urtext edition, which contains significant differences from the 1972 publication used by all previous recordings. The recording of Duruflé’s Requiem is the first by a French children's choir.

We begin with Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir. The recording was made in 2022, the work's centenary year, though it wasn't premiered until 1962, as Martin simply wrote it and put it in a drawer.

The Kyrie is not the fastest I have heard, but the choir impresses with its fluidity and flexibility. The children on the top line(s) have a lovely bright, even tone. Yet this is not just about the top line, we have a nice clear view of all the interior lines too. I did want the Gloria to be a bit more impulsive, but Opstad's steadiness allows his singers to bring out the music's detail. Opstad's approach in the Credo is very text based, crafting different sections to bring out the different facets of the movement. The Sanctus begins beautifully gently, with lovely clear tone from the trebles, the 'Pleni sunt coeli; the moves beautifully. The Agnus Dei is performed by two choirs, rather than soloists and choir, and the choir singing the long plainchant-like lines really brings out the suppleness of the music's line.

Opstad in his booklet note, makes the case for regarding the orchestra and organ versions of Duruflé’s Requiem as separate works, the organ one being a smaller, more intimate one, and the composer had high regard for the 1970s recording, with boys and men, by George Guest at St John’s College, Cambridge.

The sense of supple line really sets the choir in good stead for the Requiem, and the organ's lovely hushed tone in the opening of the Introit is complemented by the choir. In the Kyrie, though the music builds to some rich climaxes, this sense of a lovely line keeps threading its way through the music. There are some vivid moments too, whilst by contrast the offertory begins dark and intense, though the young singers give real point to the movement's climaxes. Opening of the Sanctus has just the right amount of clarity and hushed atmosphere, with bright firm tone in the Hosanna climaxes. Juliette May is beautifully dignified in the Pie Jesu, with a fine contribution from cellist Jérôme Cuvillier 

Not surprisingly, the choir's virtues are to the fore in the Agnus Dei and Lux Aeterna, supported by William Fielding's beautifully laid back organ playing. This is one of those recordings that brings out the music's natural flow. For the Libera me, baritone Alain Buet, who made a strong contribution to the offertory, returns for another strong moment finely supported by the choir, and the way Duruflé showcases the lower voices at the open gives the movement a particular colour. The drama of the choir's entry just before the baritone entry is picked up by Buet whose delivery is almost operatic. We end with the supremely beautiful clarity of the trebles and sopranos in the In Paradisum.

Both of these works are available in countless recordings, but there is something about the suppleness and the naturalness of the Maîtrise de Toulouse that I loved in these recordings. Also, the choir is not just about the top line, fine though that is, and Opstad's approach ensures that the inner parts are well served. There are moments in both works where Opstad takes a slightly too measured approach for my taste, but I appreciate that it enables the young singers to bring out the detail. And what is amazing is that, whatever the speed, the young sopranos and trebles are easily able to sustain that sense of line.

Frank Martin (1890-1974) - Mass for Double Choir [26:14]
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) - Requiem [40:52]
Maîtrise de Toulouse
Conservatoire de Toulouse
Mark Opstad (conductor)
Juliette May (mezzo-soprano)
Alain Buet (baritone)
William Fielding (organ)
Jérôme Cuvillier (cello)
Recorded at the Temple do Salin, Toulouse, 23-25 April 2022

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