Gay Men’s Chorus presents Duruflé’s Requiem in unique version for male chorus

Mon Mar 05, 2018 at 1:49 pm
By Jamie McCrary

Thea Kano conducted the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC in a program of Durufle Saturday night

On Saturday evening, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, directed by artistic director Thea Kano, presented Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem at the Church of the Epiphany in its chamber orchestra version though with a difference. This was billed as the world premiere of a new arrangement, adapted by Kano for male chorus (tenors and basses, no sopranos or altos). Further, rather than the usual mezzo and baritone soloists, the single voice was Breanna Sinclairé, a Baltimore native and transgender soprano. 

The evening led off with two shorter Duruflé works performed by the Rock Creek Singers, which set the reverent tone for the evening, beginning with the “Ubi caritas et amor” section of Duruflé’s Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens.

In this concise yet powerful music, the Singers presented a beautifully blended combination of sustained and moving notes, woven together with their warm, welcoming voices. Cadences were also expertly coordinated, helping solidify the group’s well-prepared performance.

The group also presented Duruflé’s Messe “Cum jubilo,”  a showcase of the chorus’ technical mastery and artistic sensitivity. The Kyrie movement was calm and quiet with a probing forward momentum, ushering listeners into the explosively joyful Gloria. The latter, by contrast, was vibrant and exhilarating, featuring the orchestra’s trumpets and strong, forte dynamics in the chorus.

The third movement, Sanctus, was dark and foreboding, with a slow, walking baseline in the organ. Benedictus presented a stark contrast to this darker tone, creating a docile, almost religious feeling. Messe “Cum jublio” ended with the Agnus Dei, the chorus building intensity and emotion throughout, finally concluding with hopeful, warm major chords. 

After these moving introductory pieces, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, took the stage for this new version of the composer’s Requiem. The Introit movement began solemnly, building on the reverent tone already present in the hall. The strings, chorus and organ traded off themes throughout the movement and into the Kyrie. Both movements alternated between quiet, sustained passages and huge emotional climaxes in the strings, organ and chorus.

The third movement, Domine Jesu Christe, was much darker. There were several passages where the strings played tremolo sul ponticello (over the bridge), helping to create an ominous mood. At times the orchestra seemed almost violent in its physical and emotional vigor.

The Sanctus was a welcome relief from this intensity, presenting a much cheerier tone. The Pie Jesu was truly the centerpiece. Soloist Breanna Sinclairé’s voice was thick and pure, with an even and sustained vibrato that, while on the slow side, still balanced the music well. A solo cello complemented her voice, echoing the themes and dynamics she sang. The movement’s end was haunting, Sinclairé, the cello and the organ all peacefully joining together. 

The Agnus Dei and Lux aeterna movements were each melodic, calm and quiet. The Lux aeterna had an especially liturgical feel, the organ playing harmonic progressions based on the composer’s absorption of the modes of Gregorian chant.

Libera me, the penultimate movement, helped build intensity towards the final movement. It opened with a powerful passage in the horns, followed by intense tremolo in the strings. The chorus alternated between strong, forte passages and more peaceful movements throughout.

Overall, this was a high-quality, artistically nuanced performance. The piece was beautifully interpreted and presented, a testimony to Kano’s artistic leadership, as well as strong contributions from organist Jeremy Filsell and the chamber string orchestra with trumpet, harp and timpani. 

3 Responses to “Gay Men’s Chorus presents Duruflé’s Requiem in unique version for male chorus”

  1. Posted Mar 05, 2018 at 7:37 pm by Robert Hensley

    I am so proud to read of the Chorus and RCS’ continued expansion into more challenging works. I hope to be able to experience this remarkable growth soon as a member of the audience.

  2. Posted Mar 06, 2018 at 12:19 pm by Richard Murray

    Thank you for this wonderful description and summation. Plans for our trip to DC to attend this performance covered six months. Sitting in Charlotte airport waiting for our plane took up the entire day and into the night. We never made it and we are sad, indeed. Kudos to the chorus for demonstrating the diversity of talent necessary for such a demanding piece of music.

  3. Posted Mar 06, 2018 at 5:27 pm by Jim Young

    Congratulations for the wonderful arrangement and performance!

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