San Diego Master Chorale Presents the Maurice Duruflé Requiem at St. Paul’s Cathedral

The San Diego Master Chorale under the direction of Music Director John K. Russell presented Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. Accompanied by the cathedral organist Martin Green and assisted by solo cellist Peter Ko, the 130-voice choir gave a robust but nuanced account of the original version of Duruflé’s 1947 Requiem.

Of the Requiem settings American choirs regularly choose to perform, Duruflé’s work is third in line, following Giuseppe Verdi’s masterful, operatic Requiem and Gabriel Fauré’s lush, late Romantic Requiem. The shape of Duruflé’s work closely resembles Fauré’s, leaving out the gory “Dies Irae” movement and highlighting the tender “Pie Jesu.” Perhaps because Duruflé lacked Fauré’s facility to create gorgeous, memorable melodic lines, he chose to quote and expand on the Gregorian chant themes associated with the Latin Requiem texts for his choral Requiem.

John Russell [photo courtesy of the performer]

Under Russell’s assured direction, the Master Chorale brought commanding brilliance to the Requiem’s “Domine Jesu Christe” movement with its cries of “libera” and to the “Sanctus” with its exultant tributes of “Hosannah.” In Russell’s ten-year tenure with the Master Chorale, he has managed to equalize and balance the sections of the chorus, a feat that allows the chorus to create rich, generous fortes that comfortably filled the lofty cathedral. Each section sang with winning vocal color and laudable unity, e.g. the deep, Gregorian solemnity of the men’s voices at the opening of the “Introit,” the creamy legato of the mezzo-sopranos with Peter Ko’s melting solo in the “Pie Jesu,” and the celestial glow of the women’s voices in the concluding “In Paradisum.”

Martin Green’s impressive, fluid organ accompaniment used the ample resources of the cathedral’s instrument to elegantly complement and support the Master Chorale. Placed on risers in the center of the chancel, the singers were surrounded by the massive organ divisions, yet Green’s immaculate registrations maintained a felicitous balance throughout the work.

The program’s opening half offered seven selections of shorter choral works, from Duruflé’s familiar a cappella motet “Ubi Caritas” to Gerald Finzi’s brassy anthem “God is Gone Up” that uses the organ’s bright trumpet stops in fanciful alternation with the choir. Benjamin Britten’s “Jubilate Deo” provided another pleasantly assertive organ and chorus anthem from the 20th-century British school. From the German tradition we heard Felix Mendelssohn’s mellifluous “Da Nobis Pacem” and J. S. Bach’s chorus from Cantata No. 147 “”Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe,” which most American music lovers know as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”  It was a relief to hear it as Bach wrote it! From the contemporary African-American composer Mark Butler, the Master Chorale sang his serenely lyrical motet “Dona Nobis Pacem.”

This concert was presented by the San Diego Master Chorale on April 27, 2024, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Bankers Hill. The program was repeated on April 28 at La Jolla’s St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.


  1. Wayne L chilstrom on May 4, 2024 at 11:12 pm

    Perfection at its best

  2. Becky White on May 6, 2024 at 11:13 am

    I had a lovely time and St. Paul’s is such a fantastic venue!

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