GMCD 7156 – Marcel Dupré – Organ Works Vol. 1
Jeremy Filsell – Organ
The American Organist July 2000
It has been a long time coming, but finally we are recognizing the expanse and importance of Dupré’s many organ works, or at least we are in a much better position to assess them through the impressive evidence of this new series of recordings (and a simultaneous, equally exceptional offering, featuring diverse soloists and venues, issued by Naxos Records). Dupré, still legendary for his astounding capabilities as a performer, wrote works to display the finest qualities of his mind and body, and the sheer physical challenge of many of his scores has kept them from being heard with much frequency. But they are worth every effort, and Filsell presents them with fluency, conviction, and verve in a style not unlike that documented in Dupré’s own early recorded performances, made when he (like Filsell now) was in his youthful prime.
Still bold, compelling, and wonderfully apt, the three splendid pieces of Opus 7 belie their genesis in 1912. How fresh and different they are from the music of his mentor, Widor, and how generous yet sophisticated their reverence for the spirit of Bach. And similarly timeless; the first and last among the most played of all Dupré’s works, and always will be–perfection. Dupré–never satisfied to write for the organ’s sound alone, though he does this unerringly–always served us intellectual challenge and reward in equal measure. The Op. 50 collection (1955) of mind-expanding, finger-crunching miniatures (the second half of the set appears in a later CD volume) delights in its spellbinding (relative) simplicity. Again Bach’s shadow smiles over these diminutive puzzles in all 24 major and minor keys, as if to say, “Learn by doing!” (play all of these, plus the six Bach Trios, with grace and your career is assured!). Discipline and wisdom blend in Op. 63, created when Dupré was 82. Like many composers, Dupré enjoyed writing within tight restrictions, which were his fertilizer, and the lyricism of the first three of these modal fugnes proves totally beguiling. Opus 51 (from 1957) may seem austere at first audition, but it must be a treat to watch Filsell’s virtuous exploitation of the instrument, particularly in the Musette with its unobtrusive yet perpetually active pedal part. Triptyque ends with one of those triumphant outbursts that eradicates any prior dismay.
Admittedly, one would not immediately think of a contemporary Floridian church or a Moller organ (of any period) as being the natural venue for such a demanding and commanding project, but this room is supportive, and the instrument’s sonorities (improved by the regulative attentions of voicers Jonathan Ambrosino and Jeffrey Weiler) provide pretty much everything these works need. Dupré after all, must have been one of the most adaptive of players, given the extent of this recital tours, and his recurring presence on the American scene from the 1920s through the 1950s gives more than a little validity to the notion of featuring an American instrument in these recordings. The recorded sound is alive and agreeable, though the ongoing rush of the air-conditioning system does detract from the calm of some of the more serene movements. However, just figure that on a “period instrument,” such as in Rouen, Toulouse, or Paris, this would be replaced by wind leakage, so it all balances out.
Filsell is himself. Hi is not Dupré, nor did he study with the master, but that has in no way prevented him from absorbing the qualities essential to a thoroughly satisfying go at this impressive body of work. His dedication and skill can only increase our overdue appreciation of a masterful musical legacy, and his capability in conquering all of the inherent difficulties and conveying the musical essence with such panache and conviction is truly impressive. To savour fully that feat alone, one should own the entire twelve-CD series.
Choir & Organ – 9/10.99
How will history regard Marcel Dupré? To most non-organists, Dupré was Messiaen’s organ teacher at the Paris Conservatoire and an ‘organist-composer’ (a title often used in a somewhat derogatory context). Even to many organists, only a handful of his works are known and there is a belief that Dupré could have benefited profitably from the more rigorous self-censorship exercised by his contemporary, Maurice Duruflé. This is why a complete recording of his organ works can help us to build a better informed picture of Dupré the composer-organist. Hot on the heels of his complete Dupré recital series in London, Jeremy Filsell has undertaken this monumental recording project in the USA, with only a couple of weeks to commit the repertoire to disc. My review is limited, in part, to Volumes 1 and 2 only.
An undertaking such as this presents the composer’s oeuvre ‘warts-and-all’, and whilst a chronological approach would be informative, Filsell has opted for grouping the works as concert programmes. This is certainly satisfactory from a listener’s point of view, and the well-written and thorough programme notes provide ample background. I do feel that, given the significance of a complete works project, it would have been germane to address criticisms levelled against Dupré. The music’s inner logic is sometimes so tenuous that it is nearly unintelligible: sometimes it can feel directionless as a convoluted harmonic language, or an indulgence in lush, added-note harmony, seems to be at the expense of a clear overall architecture. It is surely no coincidence that the Op. 7 Préludes & Fugues, the Cortège et Litanie and the Lamento are the most popular and regularly-performed works on these two discs. They possess a directness and greater clarity of language and form than some of the other pieces.
Filsells playing is committed and gripping throughout: it has the air of a performance. In fact, here lies the (insoluable?) problem for a recording artist. Does he commit a one-off performance to disc, complete with gestures and proportions unique to that one reading? Or does he aim to give a less idiosyncratic performance, presenting the music more objectively but risking the emotionally insipid? Filsell clearly believes in the former, and some of the use and gradation of tempo rubato is unique to the ‘take’. There are other performance issues particular to Dupré, who was dogmatic over questions of touch and registration. Filsell’s touch is predominantly detached in the B and G-minor fugues and Inventions I and VI, where a lack of articulation markings would suggest legatissimo to Dupré’s mind. The metronome markings are observed in the Op. 7 set (although some performers regard them as generally too fast), whereas registrational liberties are taken in the Litanie and Invention XII. None of these artistic decisions are detrimental per se to the music, but they illustrate occasional dilemma between ‘obeying’ Dupré the pedagogue and delivering a performance convincing to the player.
As regards the organ, it is an American eclectic Instrument (1979/1997) with a French accent and is more akin to the instruments Dupré would have encountered on American tours than to his native Cavaillé-Coll. It has the necessary attractive palette of colours (despite one less than lovely flute rank) and has a clarity which does justice to Dupré’s sometimes complex arguments. There is a sufficient bloom to the acoustic to support bigger registrations.
This series forms an important release, especially to those who are interested in French music between Franck and Messiaen. With Dupré’s complete organ works now readily accessible, performers, listeners and scholars will be able to assess fully Marcel Dupré the composer.
Get set for organ playing of a Life Time
Applauds Jeremy Filsell’s first two volumes of the complete organ music of one of the most under-rated composers for the instrument. Just listen to our cover disc extract.
Jeremy Filsell has made records as both organist and pianist before, but this is his first really major project, and he has hit bull’s eye: these first two volumes in a complete survey of French composer Marcel Dupré’s organ music set in new standards in this repertoire, and mark Filsell out as a very exciting organist indeed.
Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) is by no means an easy composer to play. His works introduced a Lisztian virtuosity and a contemplative modality into organ music. He came from the generation after the great late nineteenth-century French Romantics of the organ (Vierne and Widor were among his teachers), and already a subtler, much more abstemious aesthetic is evident, with more restraint over registrations, and textures thinned and woven sophisticatedly against one another in a manner that reminds one not a little of Debussy’s orchestration.
It is this aspect of Dupré that Filsell understands so well: his big strength is the ability to hold all strands of the musical texturing equally in view, and not allow one stop or manual to predominate. This is a particular advantage in the selection of 12 items he makes from the 24 Inventions, Op.50, mainly short, flickeringly elusive pieces whose precisely chiselled movements are transparently satisfying interpretations.
Filsell is excellent also at clarifying the significance of Dupré’s attitude towards harmony. He is basically a tonal composer., but hedges much of his writing round with strong elements of dissonance and uncertain key-centring. Filsell snaps the uncertainty which can result from this, in both the performer’s and the listener’s mind, sharply into focus by his unerring sense of what the right tempo for this music should be. Thus, for instance, in the elliptical tonal tracery of the Chaconne from the Op.51 Triptyquehe keeps proceedings neatly on the move, firmly framing the many little step-wise changes in perspective within a broader overall view.
Filsell has chosen a very fine organ for these recordings, the one located in St. Boniface Episcopal Church, Sarasota, USA. It is limpid yet powerful, with a very clean and fluent action, and when its throat is fully open, at it is for both the Cortège et Litanie and the “Post Lude” from In Memorian in Volume 2, it makes a mighty roar indeed.
The recorded sound is superb, I simply cannot wait for the remaining 10 volumes in what I confidently predict will be a definitive statement of this excellent and underrated composer’s music.
First two volumes of what could be a definitive series – superbly insightful playing and outstanding recording
From Classic CD April 1999
Those first Dupré impressions
Jeremy Filsell plays his tribute to a boyhood hero….
Time to think back. Which composer, if any, can you remember making an impression on you as a child? Saint-Saëns, perhaps? Or maybe Tchaikovsky? Well, from English organist Jeremy Filsell comes the unlikely name of Marcel Dupré.”I heard his B minor Prelude played as volunatry when I was a chorister.” He explains “and I was blown sideways. I then just had to save my pocket money and buy the LP of his Three Preludes and Fugues.”
25 or so years later, and the Dupré passion still remains for Filsell – he has just recorded on Guild the composer’s complete organ works on 12 discs, the first of which is released this month. “There are plenty of Dupré works that are well-known,” he says,”and we’ve interspersed them throughout the series. And then, each disc in the series is supposed to have some integrity within itself: it’s either concert music or liturgical music or contrapuntal writing or whatever”
For many, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) was one of the towering geniuses of the organ world and deserves greater recognition- such a well thought out series can only help the cause, importantly, the first release features the Three Preludes and Fugues that so attracted the young Filsell and regarded by some as “impossible” when first published.
“The three Preludes and Fugues are certainly more accessible than a lot of his music,” Filsell reasons and the thematic material is so memorable. But Duprés textural innovation is also very novel in them in terms of texture, no-one else was writing like that in 1912 – Vierne had only written half of his organ symphonies at this time and his feet were very firmly in the nineteenth century.”
With and output as diverse as Dupré’s – compare, for instance, his atonal op.44 Visions with the simple liturgical op. 55, 8 Gregorian Preludes – programme order was always going to prove problematic for Filsell, as was choice of instruments and ambience: Dupré liturgical music was undoubtedly inspired by St. Supice and his liturgical duties there, but he was really the first to enjoy and extensive career as a concert orchestra. The concert pieces were written for American instruments which are very neo-classically influenced. Do you, then, have lots of ambience and room and make it sound like St. Sulpice, Rouen or wherever, or do you go for a detailed sound?
But such problems for the performer and recording company merely promise great variety for the listener and Filsell’s series should give a first-rate insight into Dupré’s diversity. And perhaps it might inspire a few ten-year olds to save up their pocked money.