Reviews

GMCD 7173 – Marcel Dupré – Organ Works Vol. 6

Jeremy Filsell – Organ

To the CD in our Shop


The American Organist – June 2001

Use of an unimposing Moller organ in an uncelebrated American church might seem an ill-advised choice for a project as important as this. But remember that Dupré spent many months over the course of four decades playing in the United States on typically American instruments (which, for the most part, he savored). Thanks to recent tonal ministrations by Jonathan Ambrosino and Jeffrey Weiler, this organ, while obviously not French, nonetheless does the entire Dupré canon full justice. And, as it turns out, in Op. 45 we again find Dupré responding to an American publisher’s desire for “accessible music,” presumably for American organists to play on their American organs. These movements, in a conservative, mode-base style on two staves with pedal ad libitum, are approachable, though by no means completely devoid of technical challenges. The last, Verbum Supernum, which might take some of us weeks or months to master, is two minutes of brilliant figurations, but that effort would be worth the thrill of accomplishment. Easier on the fingers is the Méditation from 1966, another American commission, from Enid and Henry Woodward of Carleton College for their Library of Organ Music. This piece, too, is accessible to the “amateur player” who, at least as Dupré may have imagined the situation, must be a person for whom music is an affair of the heart. The subtle poetry of these uncomplicated measures responds best to a caring hand. Throughout it all, Filsell is never at a loss, for insight or ability. Opus 48, another collection of chant-based works, this time for the Christmas season, is neither so vividly agreeable as the popular Variations sur un Noël nor so liturgically inevitable as the grand Vespers sequence of Op. 18. Yet what a wonderful progression from the almost naïve assurance of the Lord’s arrival (Ecce Dominus veniet), and the awe upon contemplation of His almighty word (Omipotens sermo tuus), to the unexpected serenity of the antiphon for Christmas Day, the effervescence of Jesse’s flowering root, the solemn procession of the Magi and their gifts in a six-part ricercare, and the luminous revelation of the concluding toccata for the Feast of the Purification. Often lost in the bustle of more imposing projects, the pair of chorale preludes, Op. 59, should be on every student’s list of things to do. They provide a quiet interlude before the last item here, which is the last of Dupré’s three famous symphonic works from the 1920s, “ferocious and disturbing” music, and for that all the more exciting. As Filsell was preparing for his landmark recital and recording project, other forces were at work assembling a multi-performer assault at the Dupré fortress, and recently Dutchman Ben van Oosten, has thrown his hat into Duprés ring, too. For so long there was so little and now a surfeit of riches. But Filsell was the first to do it all, and to my ears he provides the standard to match. His is an achievement to applaud heartily, as one should also acknowledge the sponsorship of Rolls-Royce, whose resumed role in this part of the Dupré story has a delicious aptness and logic. And bravo to Guild Recordings for putting it all together.

Organists Review – May 2001

The more one listens to and seeks to understand the organ music of Dupré the more one is drawn into a transcendent spiritual world; his technical skill is superbly assured, yet he is also alert to perceptions of the heart and soul. His music is not sentimental .Thus this distinctive, idiomatic and excellent repertoire is recognised as great art.

Dupré spent the whole of his life devoted to the organ, giving 2178 recitals all over the world. His music is not easy listening; but should not stamina be expected of the listener as it is of the composer, the organ-builder, the performer? The effort will be richly repaid. It is not music for the faint-hearted, but Jeremy Filsell, who, it should be noted, is also an accomplished solo pianist, has lived with, loved and performed Dupré’s music for many years. He helps us by contrasting large-scale concert works, plainsong- based liturgical music, and technical studies.

The Gregorian Preludes inhabit an archaic simplicity in rarely more than three or four voices; they are atmospheric like the Antiennes, quietly meditative and gently understated; yet there is variety. The Chorales are also devotional. The substantial and wonderful 2me Symphonie verges on the atonal and rejoices in its virtuosity, but behind the dazzle lie sinister undercurrents that disturb and thrill. The well-known melody Il est né provides an Offertory for Midnight Mass. Its simplicity contrasts with Dupré’s sophisticated variations. How marvellous it would be to hear the Élévations and so much of this repertoire in a liturgically appropriate context. How superbly the Scherzo recalls the spirit of Dupré’s sensational improvisations at Notre Dame. Each movement of the Sept Pièces is dedicated to a musical friend or colleague: Souvenir expresses nostalgia, Marche, pomp, Pastorale, colour, Carillon incorporates ostinato into a toccata, Canon is a tour-de-force, Légende is hypnotic, and Final is tempestuous.

These recordings seem to me to be almost ideal. Filsell’s technique and understanding are virtually faultless. The Möller instrument of 1979 is both impressive and clear, although sometimes hard-edged, the acoustic almost cavernous enough. The highly informative notes by David Gammie are exceptionally well-researched.

Not many can aspire to the technical wizardry to perform most of this important repertoire. We must be grateful that these recordings give us insight into the poetical and spiritual qualities, as well as the sensational virtuosity and supreme intellectual achievements of one of the twentieth century’s greatest composers for the organ.
Michael Overbury


American Record Guide May/June 00   Page 115

Filsell continues his plan to record Dupré’s complete organ works with this sixth instalment. As before, his programs purposely mix seldom heard pieces with some better known. The idea is a good one, though sometimes the program is quite short (51 minutes isn’t a bar- gain). The 8 Gregorian Preludes from 1948 reveal Dupr6 in his most direct, most succinct style (13 minutes for all 8). Done to comply with the publisher’s request for “accessible” music, these are delightful miniatures perfect on their own or as preludes to fuller treatments of such familiar themes as ‘Salve Regina’, ‘Pange Lingua’, and ‘Aima Redemptoris’. Filsell offers straightforward interpretations without fuss or mannerism. Meditation is a 1966 beauty without opus number. Again in a style for amateur organists, this gentle and quiet musing is an ideal communion or prayer accompaniment (Schmitt, Hall & McCreary). Brevity characterises the Chorales as well (3 minutes total). These are very similar to the Orgelbüchlein settings, the first with the theme in the Pedal, the second with it in a manual Flute stop.

The Anthems for Christmastime from 1952 offer appropriale chant settings for a span ftom the first Sunday in Advent to the Purifica- tion. The arrangements vary from simple theme-over-accompaniment to six-part tex- ture to a concluding toccata. Filsell performs accurately and with feeling.

Without doubt, the Symphony 2 is the most challenging work on this program. 11 is the last of the three “symphonies” from the 1920s (Pas- sion Symphony, 1924; Symphony in G minor for Organ and Orchestra, 1927) and was pre- miered by Dupre in New York on September 30, 1929. Murray mentions the “flerce dissonance” of the work, a completely accurate observation. The harmonic language transcends what had been heard in Dupr@’s music to that point. Acidic, bitter, angry-all better describe this than what the liner notes consider “exciting”. The edgy opening rnovement posits three themes for tutli, flutes, then strings; moments of relaxation are few, and the hard-edged first theme continues to permeate the fabric right to the end. While the formal aspects are percepti- ble, they are far less prominent than the sheer visceral wallop of this first movement. The brief 11 is in theme-and-variation form. Halting rhythms and unusual tone colours characterise this middle section. Again, one seeks a memo- rable tune to hang onto. The concluding Toccata is introduced by a long string of staccato open chords, giving way to a sombre quiet section with the bass clarinet stop. Suddenly the opening toccata reappears in more insistent fashion. Filsell manages admirable articulation, making the often dense polyphony more transparent. This is a difficult work for both per- former and listener. In pieces like düs, the rela- tive clarity of the organ in St Boniface (Sarasota) helps a great deal. Nonetheless, for listeners who prefer the resonance and reverberation of larger cathedral installations, there are two discs worth comparing: Mathieu at the Cavad- ld-Coll in St Antoine des Quinze-Vingt, Paris (ADDA 581278) is excellent Scott at Lon on s St Paul (Hyperion 67047) fights the good fight with an immense echo in competitive tempos. The echo blurs lots of detail, but the effect is thrilling. Filsell gets the nod for a fine overall performance.
METZ

International Record Review – April 2000

Jeremy Filsell has now reached the mid-point of his heroic single-handed traversal of Dupré’s complete organ music for Guild (an ongoing rival series on Naxos is shared between half-a-dozen players). Filsell – one of those rare keyboard players with equal facility on both organ and piano – has been a devotee of Dupré’s music since his school- days, and has every musical gift needed to do justice to the composer’s varied demands. He is alive to each nuance of tone and texture, although in the shorter pieces his basic pulse can be rather free, sometimes unsettlingly so. His articulation is very clear, even spiky (the Marche from Sept Piéces for example), and thus rather more ‘modern’ than Dupré’s own recordings from the 1920s and 1930s: Dupré gave us Romantic Bach, but Filsell counters with Baroque Dupré! Both discs were recorded on the Möller organ of St Boniface Episcopal Church at Sarasota in Florida. This may seem an unusual choice of instrument when there is such a wealth of suitable authentic French organs to hand just across the Channel, but this 62-stop organ has a specification very much in the French manner and boasts an enormous pedal department. It is well equipped and powerful in tone but not especially characterful, an instrument to be impressed by rather than warm to. The church acoustic is clear and not very resonant, and some listeners may regret the lack of cathedral-like mystery in this repertoire.

The principal work on Volume 6 is the Second Symphony, the remainder of the disc consisting of short works or sets of short works averaging a couple of minutes in length. Dupré was a legendary improviser, and many of the slighter works here sound much like notated improvisations. The Eight Gregorian Preludes, Op. 45, that open the recital are appealing and deliberately accessible miniatures on Gregorian themes, attractively registered by Filsell using the St Boniface reeds, tremulant and chimes. The Six Antiennes, Op. 48, are more modern in style, although they, too, are plainchant-based; while the chorales ‘Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele’ and ‘Liebster lmmanuel’ from Op. 59 sound almost like satires on Bach, emphasized by Filsell’s cheeky registration. The Second Symphony is on a completely different scale, a dark-toned work with a wild, improvisatory feel to it. The central Intermezzo, a theme and variations, includes some extraordinary textures, while the concluding Toccata in C sharp is like a demonic march à la Prokofiev. Filsell handles the technical and musical demands with aplomb – this is a performance that demands to be heard. The Second Symphony has fared well on disc in recent years, and the recordings by Thomas Trotter and John Scott, too, are superb.

The seventh disc has slightly less of a claim on the collector’s purse, including as it does only shorter compositions. The Sept Pièces of 1930 are an extended set of concert works dedicated to Dupré’s friends, including the organ builders Henry Willis and Ernest Skinner, the organist Lynnwood Farnham and the Bach scholar Albert Reimenschneider (the tumultuous Final dedicated to the latter includes the BACH motif worked into the texture). The Canon – at the seventh – and the Carillon from this set are also impressive. Of the other works on Volume 7, the most important is the toccata-like Scherzo, a semiquaver moto perpetuo demonstrating Filsell’s impressive prestidigitation; Dupré wrote this at the time he was deputizing at Notre Dame for the ailing Vierne.

Ken Blair’s recording is absolutely first- rate, capturing all the range, power and colour of this fine organ, even if distracting stop clunks in several of the works might have been edited out. David Gammie’s booklet notes are detailed and informative, a model of their kind. This series, a landmark in the recorded organ literature, is scheduled to stretch to 12 discs, but at only 51 and 57 minutes in length, respectively, these two really are unacceptably short; surely Guild didn’t need to spread its wares so thinly.
Francis Knights


CLASSIC CD MAY 2000

Now half-way in his Dupré series, Jeremy Filsell gradually appears to be doing for this under-rated composer what Jennifer Bate did for his pupil Messiaen in her celebrated Unicorn-Kanchana recordings.

The main work here is the Second Symphony, a terse and bluntly spoken piece, and certainly one of Dupré’s darker creations. Filsell displays his by now trademark mastery of Dupré’s characteristically stabbing staccato rhythms in the strutting Toccata conclusion, and the quickness of his musical reflexes is evident in the seamless switches to rapid flute figurations after the snorting opening of the Preludio.

There is slower music in two collections of shorter pieces (try the lovely cornet solo in Alma Redemptoris Mater), and a couple of typically fresh, astringent chorale preludes. Notes, sound, playing and packaging are again of superior quality. For a quick fix of Filsell fireworkery, try Lumen and Revelationem. Brilliant!
Terry Blain

Performance

Sound

Verdict: Well up to the standards of previous volumes in this definitive series