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Francesco DURANTE (1684 - 1755): Requiem in g minor

Francesca Cassinari, soprano; Elena Carzaniga, contralto; Roberto Rilievi, tenor; Matteo Bellotto, bass
Astrarium Consort
Dir: Carlo Centemeri

rec: Oct 1 - 3, 2018, Milan, Sant'Antonio
Brilliant Classics - 96027 ( 2020) (53'45")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Toccataa; Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Fugue in c minora; Requiem in g minor;

Luca Alfonso Rizzello, Aki Takahashi, violin; Marlise Goidanich, cello; Cecilia Medi, bassoon; Elisa La Marca, theorbo; Carlo Centemeri, organ (soloa)

Francesco Durante was a remarkable composer. He lived in a time that melody was considered the foundation of music, but he stuck to the contrapuntal tradition he had grown up with. He was one of the leading composers in Naples, but unlike most of his colleagues he did not compose a single opera, which was the main genre of his time. It didn't harm his reputation: he was held in high esteem, not only in Naples, but also elsewhere. His music was still appreciated and performed well after his death.

That also goes for his Requiem in g minor. Six Requiem masses are attributed to Durante, but only in three cases his authorship is authenticated. In 2016 Coro released a recording of the Missa di Requiem a 8 voci in c minor. The disc under review here includes the Requiem in g minor, which is a work of much more modest proportions. It is scored for four voices, two violins and basso continuo. However, Durante himself indicates that the violin parts are optional, and can be omitted. And indeed, if one listens to this work, the role of the violins is so limited that they can be left out without losing anything substantial.

It is impossible to say with how many voices this work should be performed. There is no indication about soli and tutti. However, Carlo Centemeri, in his liner-notes, states that several passages seem to indicate a performance by a solo voice. However, as he had opted for a performance with one voice per part, it hardly matters whether such passages are indeed for solo voice(s) or a voice group from a larger vocal ensemble.

Durante was famous for his use of counterpoint. That is impressively demonstrated here. He uses is frequently; most of the homophonic episodes are in the Dies irae, for instance in the 'Turba mirum' section. Durante applies counterpoint with the purpose of text expression, in particular by the use of dissonances. That manifests itself in the very first section: the Introitus Requiem aeternam is full of dissonances which illustrate the pain of death. Another striking example is the opening verse of the 'Ingemisco' section: "I groan like a guilty man, guilt reddens my face, suppliant before Thee, O God".

There are also a number of passages where Durante uses musical figures to depict elements in the text. 'Quantus tremor' (Dies irae) is just one example. 'Lacrimosa dies illa' opens with a figure which seems to depict the ringing of funeral bells. In the second section of 'Libera me', each word is followed by a short pause, which is a way to indicate strong emotions: "I am seized with fear and trembling". There are also episodes where Durante turns to a lively rhythm, such as on "cum sanctis tuis" (Lux aeterna) and "quando coeli movendi sunt et terra" (Libera me).

This work has been preserved in a large number of copies across Europe, for instance in Germany and Russia. It was still performed about one hundred years after his death. At that time the music was not adapted, but the scoring included horns and bassoons. Listening to this Requiem, it is easy to understand why it was so well received. It is very well written, and due to its modest scoring it is within the grasp of many ensembles. It is quite nice that the Astrarium Consort has made the score available for free download at its site. "It is our sincere hope that after listening to our performance other choirs and ensembles would be inspired to perform it themselves, applying their own points of view. In which case, this magnificent score will continue in repertoire and our goal shall have been achieved."

The outstanding performance by the Astrarium Consort will undoubtedly contribute to the dissemination of this work. This is pretty much an ideal performance, which does justice to all aspects of Durante's Requiem. The voices of the four singers blend perfectly. The good intonation guarantees that the dissonances come off to the full. The elements of text expression are not lost on them either. The two organ pieces, one of them by Durante, perfectly fit into the programme.

Johan van Veen ( 2020)

Relevant links:

Astrarium Consort

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