GMCD 7157 – Marcel Dupré – Organ Works Vol. 2
Jeremy Filsell – Organ
The Organ – Vol. 78
Remember the saying about buses? You can wait for an hour for one to come along and then two arrive at the same time! That seems to be the case at the moment with recordings of Marcel Dupré’s complete organ works! There are two cycles on the market one by Naxos (currently at volume 7) the other by Guild (Volumes 1 to 3 of 12). The Naxos recordings are by several organists at various organs in the USA, whereas Guild recorded all of theirs with Jeremy Filsell at the organ of St Boniface Episcopal Church, Sarasota, Florida.
The great benefit of sets like these is that they introduce us to works we may not have heard before – or knew existed!. They also give a broader musical demonstration of the composer, sometimes revealing hitherto unfamiliar phases and aspects of their life and art. For instance, Volume 6 in the Naxos series sees Stefan Engels (organ) and Alessio Bax (piano) enabling this reviewer to explor the Sinfonia (written in 1946) or the Ballade (1932) and the Variations on Two Themes (1937). The slow, quiet movements in each give opportunity for some interesting tonal variations for both players, contrasting with the eruption of ringing chords and arpeggios which demand either full organ or plenty of volume from the pianist. It seems to be difficult to achieve a good balance in recording these two instruments together for works like these, but Naxos have done quite well and my slight personal prejudice against piano and organ duets is under review! Stefan Engels, who was born and studied in Germany but moved in 1993 to pursue further studies and now resides in Chicago, closes the CD with the Eight Short Preludes on Gregorian Themes for Organ, which Dupré wrote for manuals only. Relatively simple and uncomplicated, they are an immense contrast to the grandeur of most of Dupré’s works. These eight preludes exhibit some fascinating musical innovations and the helpful notes in the booklet guide the listener through each one.
Volume 7 sees the very accomplished organist Mary Preston at the console of the 4 manual, 84 rank, 65 stop mechanical key action organ built by C B Fisk at the Lay Family Concert Organ at Meyerson Symphony Centre in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, the booklet does not tell us when it was built, and there is no picture of either organ or concert hall – so annoying! Mary Preston gives a solid and trustworthy performance, opening with the Entrée, Méditation and Sortie Op 62 which introduces us to the potential power this organ possesses. She doesn’t overdo it at this stage, leaving plenty for later tracks on the CD when the woofers in your speaker boxes will be put to the test. The many colours available on the tone palette of this instrument are displayed as the performance progresses through 6 Chorals from Op 28 (short, improvisation style gems) and the symphonic poem based on Psalm 18 Op 47, which Dupré wrote in memor of his mother. Once again, Preston seems very comfortable with this work and plays with passion and feeling. The programme concludes with Trois Élélvations Op 32 and Évocation Op 37, full of emotion and a final burst of full organ as the 78 minute, good value CD closes.
In 1998 Jeremy Filsell performed the complete organ works of Dupré in nine weekly concerts at St Peters, Eaton Square, London. The Guild recordings, the first 2 in a series of 12, were made in the September of that same year and demonstrate the understinding, appreciation and commitment that this fine young organist has for the French composer. Filsell’s interpretations are colourful and articulate and the organ he has chosen at Sarasota, Florida, for these recordings is clear speaking and set inmonderate acoustics which allow the listener to hear all that is going on between fingers and feet in the fast and furious movements. The 60 speaking stop, 3 manual built in 1979 by M P Moller, which received tonal revisions and revoicing in 1997 by Jonathan Ambrosino and Jeff Weiler is best described as an eclectic American organ with a French accent – which is rather fitting, as Dupré spent some considerable time giving recitals in the USA. Along with fine string and rich flute stops, interesting reeds are put to good use on these recordings. Filsell introduces the Moller organ with great gusto on Volume 1 as he plays the first of the Trois Préludes and Fugues, Op7 in a powerful and dramatic manner. This is followed by very attractive renderings of the eloquent second Prelude and Fugue and the more technically innovative third. It is said that Dupré was probably the only organist in France at the time with the technical ability to play this original and revolutionary trio. Now accepted as standard repertoire, this trio was not published until 1920, 8 years after originally written. Dupré certainly set an organ benchmark for the future with these and subsequent compositions. The first 12 of the 24 Inventions Op 50 are next on this disc along with Quatre Fugues Modales Op 63 and Triptyque Op 51. Filsell plays these thoughtfully and with flair, displaying both his own and the organs ability throughout.
Volume 2 opens with the Variations sur un Noël Op 20, which for me is 11 minutes of sheer enjoyment, heightened by Filsell’s choice of stops. Miserere Mei Op 46, Lamento Op 24 and the more familiar Cortège et Litanie Op 19 follow before the programme concludes with the last major work of Dupré in old age, In Memoriam Op 61. This was written following the death from cancer of his only child Marguerite in 1963 at the age of 54. Having taken 2 years to compose, he performed it on his 80th birthday in 1966 at Saint-Sulpice, Paris where he was assistant organist to Widor for 28 years and then titulaire organist for 37 years until his death on Whit Sunday 1971. It has rarely been played since, so this is an opportunity to hear this very personal and emotional act of remembrance. Both these discs are highly recommended – Let’s hope the next 10 in the set are just as good.