Reviews

GMCD 7193 – Marcel Dupré – Organ Works Vol. 10

Jeremy Filsell – Organ

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Essex Chronicle 4th May 2007

Taking the Organic Approach Classical Sounds with Chris Green
ARE you old enough to remember that Peter Sellers’ track about Balhain “Gateway to the South”? I have never been to Balham, but the late organist and composer, Healey Willan did achieve that. In fact, he was bom there in 1880. Financial insecurity eventually led him to ‘inigrating to Canada where he took up an appointment as head of the theory department at the Toronto Conservat0I’¥ of Music. For decades he also presided in the organ loft at St Mary Magdalene in the city, and soon was regarded as one of Canada’s foremost living composers – even though it started.in Balham. I mention all this, because today I am focusing on “0” for “Organs”, and amongst the new recordings is one featuring compositions by Dr Healy Willan and played by Patrick Wedd on an organ simi1a.l’ to the one on
which Willan performed, but located in Eglise Saint Jean-Baptiste, Montreal. Willan died in 1968 and by that time had composed two symphonies, two operas, dozens of instrumental works, and compositions for the organ of which a dozen are featured here including Five Preludes on Plainchant Melodies – plain chant was something which certainly influenced him. It may be my imagination, but there’ does seem a. strong French influence in his writing. Listen tQthe passacaglia from an Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, and there textures and timbres are more Gallic than English. The recording is spacious without’ muddying the warmth of this instrument which was built in 1914 and restored in 1995 (Naxos 8.557375).
Now to France, and a series featuring the complete organ works of composer and organist, Marcel Dupre (1886-1971), making him a near contemporary of Will an. Numbering twelve in total, the CDs feature Jeremy Filsell playing the organ of St Boniface Episcopal Church, Sarasota, Florida, an instrument built in 1979. Jeremy Filsell admits in the sleeve note that he is a Dupre anorak,and there is no denying that, unless one is such, then the best way to enjoy these well-recorded and balanced CDs is to sample them. There is a certain uniformity of approach to the melodic form, and, at times, one longs for the explosions of, say, Widor. In short, the compositions are “fit for purpose”, occupying a place in the church rather than the concert hall. Having said that, Dupre was respected world-wide as a recitalist clocking up 2,178 recitals and filling the big spaces with enthusiastic audiences. In addition, he occupied a post as Professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire and. succeeding Widor as Organist at Saint Sulpice in Paris. Well done, Guild. Records in undertaking this venture, and full marks to Jeremy Filsell for turning his enthusiasm to such distinguished performances. All the CDs are available on’the Guild label. If I was going to start somewhere, it would be with the 14 Stations of thll Cross (GMCD 7193) which occupies Volume 10.

Organists’ Review – February 2002

These three discs mark the conclusion of Jeremy Filsell’s project to record the complete works of Marcel Dupré. That all twelve discs were recorded in the space of a fortnight in September 1998 makes the task even more remarkable.
Dupré’s Le Chemin de la Croix remains one of the great French programmatic works for the organ, a work that had profound influences on later works by composers such as Messiaen and Duruflé. Jeremy Filsell gives a highly convincing account here, with a well-paced performance which emphasises the drama in the sequence of movements. The M P Möller organ, built in 1979 with some later tonal revisions, is well-suited to this repertoire and the recordings allow a sense of space as well. The playing is always precise, perhaps on occasions clinically so, though to a certain extent this suits the Dupré idiom. There are
some memorable moments, and the build-up in intensity to each of the falls – movements 3, 7 and 9 – displays great control and sense of drama. In contrast there is an almost magical transformation into the more comforting colours of Jésus console les filles d’Israël qui le suivent.
Volume 11 is devoted to the liturgical organ musie, in particular his Vêpres des Fêtes du Commun de la Sainte-Vierge. In this recording the individual organ movements are interspersed alternatim with plainsong verses (sung by a small group including Jeremy Filsell) from the Vespers service. As with much of Dupré’s music this work had originated as an improvisation, in this ease at Vespers for the Feast of the Assumption in August 1919, at which time Dupré was standing in for Louis Vierne at Notre-Dame in Paris. Dupré was afterwards asked to write the pieces down, having been offered a considerable fee to do so by an English visitor. The next year this same benefactor was to arrange a performance of the work in the Royal Albert Hall, with the versets being performed by the choir of the Gregorian Association, a concert which was to be Dupré’s British debut, and one which launched his international recital career.
It is good to hear these short movements in context here, and Filsell’s performance is exemplary. There is plenty of contrast, from the opening grand tutti procession through the more reflective flute timbres to the colourful, mutations used in the central movements based on Ave Maris Stella – especially in the coloratura ornamented chorale on the Cornet.
The other two works on the disc, the 1969 Regina Coeli and the slightly earlier Choral et Fugue originating from a 1962 improvisation at a recital in Saint-Sulpice to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the organ), again demonstrate Filsell’s empathy with this music and its many demands. The final Fugue develops from its initial typically gritty counterpoint to a grandly paced conclusion.
Dupré’s 79 Chorales Op 28 make up the final volume of this series. At first sight this might appear to be a disc that could perhaps be omitted from one’s collection. However Filsell turns this into an encyclopaedic journey through the wide range of registrational colours. It is perhaps fitting that the collection which Dupré himself saw as purely and simply pedagogic should make up Volume 12, as in many ways it is his legacy as a teacher that carries as great, if not greater, importance than his performing. None of These works were intended to be played in recitals, and most of them would hardly be long enough for liturgical use, but there is much to savour here. Some are solidly simple, such as Ach Gott und Herr with its solid foundation sounds, whilst others such as In dir ist Freude display considerable jubilance – here including the use of the Cloche Etoile carillon! All in all a worthy conclusion to a marathon project.
Michael Harris

American Record Guide January / February 2001

Filsell nears the end of his complete Dupré cycle with this very rewarding issue of a work the composer himself liked a great deal, often programming extracts in his recitals. The 14 Stations, familiar to all Catholics, represent episodes in Christ’s final hours from his con- damnation to the interment in the tomb. The pieces are extremely varied in mood and scope, from anxiety and fear (1) to gentle assurance and tenderness (4), through oppression and agony (3,7,9,11) to resolution and redemption (14).
Dupré knew ahead of time what he would do to follow the readings of poems by Claudel. He planned the registrations, the mood, even the motifs he would employ to unify the piece as a whole. His themes-no doubt inspired by his appreciation of Wagner-include the Cross, Suffering, Compassion, Pity, Consola- tion, Persecution, and Redemption; specific intervals were identified, as well as rhythmic cells. The Stations (Le Chemin de la Croix) was therefore both planned and improvisatory (save for a short run-through before the concert). It ranks among his masterworks, along with the Prelude & Fugue in G minor and the Passion Symphony. It requires an Instrument capable of wide ranges in volume and tone colour, and a performer with sufficient technical ability to surmount the challenges. The organ at St Boniface Episcopal, Sarasota and the artise of Filsell are up to this challenge. His playing is especially telling in the series of three Stations depicting Christ falling under the Cross. The closest competition comes from Renet at St. Sermin (Festivo 105). This is volume 10, and perhaps the best in Filsell’s series, full of drama and musical sensitivity.
METZ

BBC Musicmagazine – December 2000

The cause of Dupré’s music is served well by both the artists reviewed here. Both play Large French-inspired, contemporary American instruments (Filsell, the 1979 Möller at Sarasota; Preston, the Fisk at Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas), and both, taking advantage of the size and symphonic scope of their respective instruments, display their admirable powers of performance in the readings of The Station of the Cross. Part composition, part improvisation at its first, extempore performance in Brussels in 1931, this 14-movement work (each of Dupré’s musical stations followed a poem by Paul Claudel at the (Premiere) is a superb mirror of Dupré’s art, and a piece for which its creator retained a special affection.
Filsell and Preston not only understand and achieve the virtuosity necessary for Stations 1 (Condemnation. of Jesus), VII and IX (Jesus falls for the second and third times) , for example, but they realise the deep significance of Dupré’s recurring themes throughout the work as they take the listener through the harrowing story. Both are equally expressive and play with reflective poise in, say, VI (Veronica) and VIII (the women of Jerusalem). On balance, maybe Filsell takes flight – Cochereau-style – more than Preston, but Preston’s playing is always clear, driven and precisely articulated.
Andrew McCrea

The Organ Vol 79 No 314 November 2000 – January 2001

Vol 10 is given over entirely to Le Chemin de la Croix. The notes give us a valuable insight into Dupré’s approach to composition. In February 1931 he had been asked to improvise between the reading of poems by Paul Claudel for the Stations of the Cross at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels. The event was part composition, part improvisation as Dupré had worked out most of the material before hand, spending time on the afternoon of the concert to rehearse many of his musical ideas.
When members of the audience hoped that something might be saved of the event he contemplated writing the work down and spent the next year working on it, eventually giving the first performance at the Trocadéro in Paris on 18 March 1932. This was unlike the germination of the Symphonie Passion which took far longer.
Jeremy Filsell obviously knows this score well and shows a great sensitivity towards the introspection and spirituality. Jésus recontre sa Mère is especially effective and Jésus est mis dans le sépulcre has a dignified beauty to bring the cycle to a touching close.
The microphones seem to have been placed at some distance from the instrument and the acoustic has the warmth and vibrancy of a large French Cathedral rather than the rather dry tones of many American recordings.
The more we are able to hear of these works the more we come to appreciate the importance of Dupré not just from the few works regularly performed but from the entire range of his output.
BH

SEEN AND HEARD on MusicWeb

Marcel Dupré (1886-1871) devoted his entire life to the organ, giving 2178 recitals and teaching constantly.  His virtuosity and improvising capabilities were legendary.   This major work was firstly improvised in 1931 on a basis of ‘symbolic motifs’ for the fourteen stations.  He incorporated some elements of musical symbolisms used by religious composers from Bach & Handel to Franck & Wagner.   Responding to encouragement and pressure from those who had been present, he recalled and wrote down the music during the following year.  It became an enduring work, which he played annually every Lent at St. Sulpice in Paris.
It takes its place amongst major works of ‘religious programme music’ between Maleingreau’s Passion Symphony (1920), Tournemire’s Chorales-poemes pour les Sept paroles du Christ  and those many of his pupil, Messiaen.  Le Chemin de la Croix was recorded by Dupré himself in 1958 (Westminster Records) and Jeremy Filsell quotes extensively from Dupré’s own sleeve notes.
It is impressive music by a composer surprisingly little known outside organ circles (though there are many works for other media prior to the mid-1920s) and I think this series may surprise and please some CD collectors who may have no organ CDs, or else none other than of Bach.
Filsell has steeped himself in this music for many years and is an entirely committed and reliable guide.  He played the entire oeuvre in nine recitals in London in summer 1998 and afterwards toured with them to several countries and made this recording that September on a 1979/1997 organ at Sarasota in Florida.  The recorded sound is splendid and the booklet fully documented.
Peter Grahame Woolf