GMCD 7162 – Marcel Dupré – Organ Works Vol. 4

Jeremy Filsell – Organ

To the CD in our Shop

The American Organist-June 2001

Filsell is the first individual in history to record Dupré’s complete works, a formidable challenge superbly met. He prepared for the task by playing the cycle in a series of nine weekly London concerts, then came to the U.S. to put it all on tape in an almost unbelievable twelve days. From the outset you appreciate the exceptional quality of performance exhibited here. These are modern performances on a “modern” American instrument, yet totally sensitive to the Dupré style without slavishly copying it. In the end, I think Dupré himself would be impressed. Vol. 4 offers early and late works. The vibrant rose window in the north transept of the medieval Abbey of St. Ouen in Rouen (city of Dupré’s birth) inspired what almost turned out to be Dupré’s swan song (Op. 65), a compact, intensely logical, and intellectually brilliant six-minute piece. In six sections, Vitrail takes off from the window’s five triangles geometrically surrounding a central five-pointed star (thus six major elements). Three principal themes are shared, evolved, and combined without any wasted gestures, with technique and emotion refined and distilled. Though ending in a climax, this is neither a career’s grand finale nor and old man’s prayer: it is yet another beautifully polished gem from a master jeweler who was still totally adept in his 83rd year. A very different companion piece, the quiet, uncomplicated, single-page Souvenir, was a gift for a friend on the death of her mother. The Rouen connection is maintained in a programmatic jump back to Opus 38 (Titelouze was organist at the Rouen cathedral for 45 years). While more adventuresome than the spare Op. 28 Chorales, these 16 brief pieces on chant themes also were intended for student organists, but they offer emotional and technical challenges more akin to Bach’s Orgelbüchlein. Diminutive in proportion if not in disposition, several pieces demand top-of-class ability to play, particularly the last of the set. As Widor’s prize pupil. Dupré had already established himself in Europe when he made his first American tour in 1921, during which he made a major impression at his New York City debut with an improvised four-movement symphony on themes from the life of Christ. Three years later, he wrote down that “improvisation” as his Symphonie-Passion, and still is regarded as one of his finest scores, and has proven to be one of his most popular

American Record Guide January/February 00 Page 90

Filsell continues what will be a 12-dise set of Dupré’s complete organ works. Again, the sizeable Moller (1997) in St Boniface, Sarasota is heard. Filsell’s programming is unusual and quite refreshing, combining Dupré’s best known works with seldom heard selections. Vitrail means stained glass, specifically the rose window of the North transept in St Ouen, Dupré’s home church. Its five-pointed star commands attention amidd the glorious coloured panes. This design apparently inspire

Dupré to create his last composition (1969) around three themes that recur in sections 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6-why there aren’t five sections isn’t explained. It’s a disquieting work, developing themes based on intervals of the second, third, and fourth, combining all three themes in the last section with considerable force. One doesn’t get much sense of mystical awe or sensuous colour from this piece. Messiaen conveys those qualities far better; Dupré was ever conscious of form and musical architecture.

Far more appealing to the public is the gentle Souvenir, an unpublished manuscript written in memory of a good friend. Registered entirely for strings, it is a remarkable postscript to Vitrail. Organists would love to have this published, as it has all the qualities of a soothing, semi-saccharine improvisation lasting just under three minutes.

Filsell’s inclusion of the Tombeau de Titelouze (1942) acknowledges Dupré’s earlier efforts (1942), a tribute to the great godfather of French organ music. This is a didactic group of six pieces arranged somewhat in order of difficulty, from manuals only to more involved counterpoint. Each is supplied with fingering, pedalling, and registration for the student. All are based on liturgical themes, half of which were treated by Titelouze. Many make the theme prominent with solo reed stops against quiet moving accompaniment. The conclud- ing ‘Christ Forgive Thy Servants’ is a splendid postlude (if you want a very French sound for this piece, listen to “The Historic Organ of St Roch”-Skarbo 1978). Filsell has no problem with any of them, and the solo reeds and mutations are less strident than those heard on the Southwark organ (Priory 406).

The interpretation of the popular Passion Symphony is certainly respectable. The confu- sion and uncerlainty of the opening move- ment are nicely captured, but 1 find the ‘Nativ- ity’ a bit loo fast@, the journey of the Mag! sounds more like a forced march at the start. Filsell restrains the crescendo in ‘Crucifixion’ longer than most performers, which heightens anticipation for the final massive nail chords. Good tempo and clean articulation character- ize’Resurrection’. Sometimes the Pedal over- powers the manual work, which is unfortu- nate. The final cascade of chords is swift, and 1 wish he had relaxed the tempo just a little. That much said, Filsell continues as an impor- tant force in the recording of Duprd’s organ works. I’m not entirely wild about his choice of instrument; some pieces sound much better on it ihan others. And for the larger Dupre pieces, like the Passion Symphony, many may want a more resonant French sound (1 suggest Castagnet or Mathieu). Büt Filsll continues to impress with his versatility.

The Organ Vol. 79 No. 311

The present disc of this valuable enterprise contains Vitrail, Le Tombeau de Titelouze and the Sumphonie Passion. The Tombeau si a collection of miniatures based on Plainchant melodies. Their idium varies from the harmonically orthodox to the violently dissonant, yet each in its different ways plays becoming homage to Dupré’s great predecessor. The four movements of the Passion Symphonie each deal with an aspect of Jesus’ life often in most graphic terms.

Vol. 3 played by Filsell on the same organ, features the later preludes and Fugues Op. 35. For some tastes they will be strong meal, and the complexity of their learning might well serve as a deterrent.

The Inventions op. 50 Book 2 have a didactic purpose but in their brevity, they fulfil this function attractively. The trois Hymnes Op. 58 complete the programme. Because of Filsell’s wonderful playing I have enjoyed wrestling with some of the more intractable items. One could hardly wish for a more wholehearted advocate of this music for his is stylish, technically brilliant playing. On this showing he is certainly one of the world’s finest organists served by a noble instrument which he exploits superbly, and by excellent recording.

By William Whitehead

The heroic Filsell continues his ascent of the Himalayan task of the complete Dupré organ works Vol.4 gives us the Symphonie-Passion, one of the landmarks in the oeuvre and a genuine masterpiece of the 20th-century French repertoire It was originally improvised in 1921 at the giant organ of the Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia, and subsequently written down when the Significance of the event became apparent. Filsell’s tempi are characteristically upbeat, and the articulation spiky, especially when compared with the recording Dupré made when he was in his eighties Perhaps because of his advanced years, Dupré gives a grand, broad performance, which partticularly suits the portentous broodings of the first movement, the ‘World awaiting the Saviour’. Filsell’s cleanness and agility is always to be admired, though the music at times demands something more

Filsell gathers all the accolades, however, in the virtuoso pieces. The three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 36, are extraordinary tours de force of both technique and intellect If the ideas are not as immediate as those of the early set of Preludes and Fugues, their mind-bending concatenations reveal a composer fascinated with the inner workings of music With a watchmaker’s fastidiousness, he combines themes, inverts and stretches them, and maps out their progress entry by entry in the score. Filsell diverts the attention away from technical sophistry and unfailingly delivers the musical content, an achievement which cannot be overestimated