On Saturday evening, April 13, 2019, BCS presented two of the great French choral-orchestral works of the 20th century: Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, op. 9, and Francis Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, FP 148.
The Requiem, Duruflé’s longest and most substantial work, was composed in 1947 at the end of World War II. Like Fauré’s Requiem, the work focuses not on hell and damnation, but instead on images of consolation in the face of loss. The chants of the Roman Catholic Missa pro defunctis (Requiem Mass) form the melodic basis of the work, ancient melodies enriched by gentle harmonies and tender orchestral colors. Duruflé explains: “This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from human concerns. It reflects, in the unchanging form of Christian prayer, the anguish of man faced with the mystery of his final end.”
Poulenc’s Stabat Mater was composed in 1950 in response to the death of his friend, the artist Christian Bérard; he considered writing a Requiem for Bérard, but, after returning to the shrine of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour, Poulenc selected as his text the Stabat Mater, an ancient Latin hymn that reflects on Mary’s sorrow as she witnessed the Crucifixion. The piece, scored for soprano solo, mixed chorus, and orchestra, premiered in 1951 at the Strasbourg Festival. The Stabat Mater was well received throughout Europe; in the United States it won the New York Critics’ Circle Award for Best Choral Work of the year. Poulenc considered it his finest composition.
With chorus, orchestra, and soloists, over 100 musicians were on stage for this special concert conducted by BCS Music Director, Gerald Sousa. Soloists for the Duruflé were Lisa van der Ploeg (mezzo-soprano) and Bruno Sandes (baritone). The soprano soloist for the Poulenc was Amanda Biggs.
Here is the program booklet for our concert: Poulenc and Duruflé.
Here is a review of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:
Bloomington Chamber Singers give memorable performance
By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer April 15, 2019
One of the happy relationships on the local music scene is the lengthy tie that has bound the Bloomington Chamber Singers to its music director and conductor Gerald Sousa. The combination has brought us countless programs of worth and great satisfaction, season after season, 30 of them.
On Saturday evening in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, to conclude the current year of musical activity, Maestro Sousa led his chorus, a pick-up but by concert time nicely trained orchestra, and three well-chosen soloists in a program featuring two important 20th century works of liturgical nature: Francis Poulenc’s “Stabat Mater” and Maurice Durufle’s “Requiem.” Both works premiered in mid-century and reflect not only a personal belief system expressed in music that only its composer could have created but also the turbulent time during which they were written.
The concert itself reflected what conductor Sousa has been able to infuse into his willing and able vocal partners. The Bloomington Chamber Singers belong to their maestro and he to them. They have become an indestructible team, sharing a unified vision.
Remember that the singers, most of them, are not professional. This is a community choir. But they always sing with purpose, a sense of having taken possession of what they are singing. Only a fully committed and same-thinking conductor can accomplish that.
Poulenc decided to write his “Stabat Mater” following the death of two dearest friends. For his words, he chose a 13th century poem meant to reveal the sorrow of Mary as she watched the agony of her son from the foot of the cross. The music he used blends the traditional liturgical style of old with Poulenc’s own way of mixing the dark and the surprising, almost improvisational, and the brutal and the radiant, often in proximity. Both the choral and orchestral colors are his; they shift and change and, sometimes, linger.
The work’s 12 movements, most very brief (the lot of them lasting 30 minutes), cast a soft light on sorrow and our overcoming of it, so that reason and understanding and moral victory can follow Mary’s grief when “She saw her own sweet Son, whose dying caused his desolation, while he yielded up his spirit.”
To hear Poulenc’s score, and to hear it sung so passionately, was a thrill. The bounteous soprano of guest Amanda Biggs generously supported the efforts of chorus, orchestra, and conductor.
As for Durufle’s “Requiem,” it does not, like some of its 19th century predecessors, focus on anger and fear, on hell and damnation, on death as finality and despair, but on peace and comfort, on something to look forward to. The music paints that interpretation in sound and includes settings for sections that are not in most other versions of this centuries-old rite.
In the middle of the score, between the “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei,” he placed “Pie Jesus,” a stunningly beautiful musical statement pleading for “Gentle Lord Jesus” to “grant them rest, eternal rest.” Listening to the music, one cannot doubt the composer’s belief that so it shall be, that the wish will be granted. And to the usual ending of the Mass, the “Libera me,” Durufle added “In Paradisum,” which ever so restfully reinforces his faith in more song of ecstatic nature: “May the angels receive them in Paradise. ... There, may the chorus of angels receive them and with Lazarus, once a beggar, may thou have eternal rest.”
Again the Bloomington Chamber Singers, their instrumental partners, along with two other just-right soloists (mezzo-soprano Lisa van der Ploeg and baritone Bruno Sandes) joined Maestro Sousa to draw a magic circle around the soul embedded in a special and very difficult-to-master piece of music, one heard too rarely. The combination made for a memorable evening.