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Hyperion Records

CDD22059 - Dupré: Organ Music
(Originally issued on CDA66205, CDA67047)

Recording details: Various dates
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: September 2006
DISCID: 6C0BD109 9C10890A
Total duration: 119 minutes 8 seconds


'Stunning … a revelatory performance, reaching into the very heart of a work in which 'there are dark forces at work' … a real treat … the whole presentation is masterly—superb playing and superb engineering' (Gramophone)

'Thrilling music, thrillingly played' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Superb' (International Record Review)

'Here's a spectacular record' (Classic CD)

'If you seek a recording of Dupré's works which does full justice to the music's myriad shades and inflections in an acoustic which leaves you quite simply in awe, look no further. One could almost imagine Dupré himself improvising the magical sounds pervading St Paul's. Need I say more?' (Cathedral Music)

'John Scott’s understanding and deft touch in Dupré make this collection a must-have' (MusicWeb International)

Organ Music
No 1: C major  [4'31]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Marcel Dupré, a native of Rouen and, except for the war years, an almost annual visitor to London from 1920, was one of the world’s best-known organists. His teachers were Alexandre Guilmant (1837–1911) and Charles-Marie Widor (1844–1937), whom he succeeded in 1934 as Organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, nearly thirty years after first becoming his assistant there. From 1926 to 1954 he was Organ Professor at the Paris Conservatoire, and its Director from 1954 to 1956. But Dupré was more than a widely travelled virtuoso organist and distinguished teacher; he was also an important twentieth-century composer for his instrument. His master, Widor, had set a model for a concert-style of writing for the organ in his ten organ symphonies. Dupré and his contemporaries developed this style in organ symphonies of their own, and in later years Dupré carried it further in symphonic poems and suites as well as separate pieces.

In 1914 Dupré gained the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, but the First World War prevented his taking up the award—the customary period of residence at the Villa Medici, the French Institute in Rome. Instead, he occupied himself that fateful summer of 1914 with the composition of three Preludes and Fugues for his own chosen instrument. They were published soon after the war and remain, for many, Dupré’s finest contribution to the organ repertory.

Each Prelude and Fugue is dedicated to the memory of a brother-organist, but only the first bears after the dedicatory inscription (to René Vierne) the words ‘Mort pour la France’. And indeed, written in the sharp, glittering key of B major, it is the most stirring of the three. The Prelude opens animato in 3/4 with a jangling figure divided between the hands, toccata-like and double fortissimo. Beneath it, in the pedals, strides the main theme. It rises to the treble before a close in the dominant instigates a fresh start of the toccata, pianissimo in A flat major. A nominal return to B major leads to development of the material in other keys before a triumphant reprise of the initial toccata with the main theme presented in canon between the highest manual part and the pedals. The immediately succeeding Fugue continues the mood of animation, in common-time and with a subject related in outline to the toccata-like figuration of the Prelude. The Fugue has its tonal side-slips, too, a semitone down into B flat major, and thence through other tonal centres to a double fortissimo climax at which there is a canon between the outer parts, the semiquaver subject in the treble with its augmentation of quavers stalking below in the pedals. The final page, not without its harmonic side-slips, is a blazing carillonnade.

The quiet and restrained Prelude and Fugue in F minor, the least-known of the set, is inscribed to the memory of Augustin Barié, one-time composer-organist of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Above a pianissimo accompaniment, a cantabile melody emerges. Its first three notes recur like a motto throughout the Prelude; they also begin the subject of the Fugue.

Against a lively but quiet spinning movement on the manuals, the pedals sing out in long notes the main theme of Dupré’s Prelude in G minor. Later, when this tune is quietly harmonized in seven parts, the player’s right hand supplies four, and—by an almost acrobatic process—his feet the remaining three voices, while the left hand continues the spinning on its own. The strongly rhythmic fugue in 6/8 ingeniously introduces the tune of the Prelude in the treble immediately after an equally ingenious inversion of the Fugue subject in the pedals. The tune is finally presented as a chorale between two stretti which goad the Fugue to its three concluding chords.

Dupré’s Trois Esquisses, Op 41, were composed in 1945, but only the second and third were published in the following year as ‘Deux Esquisses’. The bound manuscript containing all three was discovered in 1975, in which year the first was published separately. All three were inscribed to Madame Stéphane Bornemann, the wife of Dupré’s publisher. In an introduction to the first Esquisse, Rolande Falcinelli, Dupré’s closest pupil, wrote: ‘Reading, then a closer analysis of the first ‘Sketch’ confirms that the three pieces were conceived as a homogeneous though free group, balancing and complementing each other. Certainly each panel of this triptych has its own entity, yet, since the ‘repeated notes’ sketch (published as No 1) and ‘octaves’ (No 2) are rarely separated, it would be desirable to add to them this ‘sister’, unknown for twenty-seven years … indeed, the tormented and troubled character of the newcomer provides a contrast to the crystalline traceries of what used to be the ‘first’; whilst the colossal breadth of the final piece concludes in the fireworks of its diabolical toccata a true suite of transcendental studies.’

The true first Esquisse unfolds with chromatic unease in a nominal C major, the key in which, eventually, it quietly ends. The registration is for various groupings of foundational stops in the outer andante portions of this tripartite piece, with the tutti storming away in the central agitato section. The true second Esquisse, published as No 1, is a vivace exercise in staccato repeated notes. Here Dupré’s chromatic E minor, informed by conjunct sequences of sixths, fifths and thirds, is enhanced by the delicacy of the specified registration, particularly the combination of Bourdon and Tierce. The true third Esquisse, published as No 2, and marked deciso, is a daunting and relentless octave study in B flat minor for the tutti.

Dupré’s international fame developed soon after the First World War. It was the direct result of his skill as an improviser, specifically on plainsong themes. The 15 Versets pour les Vêpres du Commun des Fêtes de la Sainte Vierge, first played by Dupré at the Royal Albert Hall in December 1920 and published that year in London, initiated a form of composition based on plainsong to which Dupré reverted in the course of his composing career before, during, and after the Second World War. In 1943, he completed Le tombeau de Titelouze, 16 Chorals sur des Hymnes liturgiques, Op 38, from which two pieces are included here. During an Organ Week held in Rouen in 1942, the Abbé Robert Delestre, Maître de Chapelle of Rouen Cathedral showed Dupré the unmarked grave of Jean Titelouze, the founding father of French organ music. It immediately inspired Dupré to compose this Tombeau which he inscribed to the Abbé. Placare Christe servulis, the last piece in the collection, treats the hymn melody in the form of a toccata (D major, 12/8) for All Saints Day. Te lucis ante terminum, the fifth piece of the collection, is for the Office of Compline. A four-part piece, for two manuals and pedals, with the hymn melody in the treble, it unfolds in a modal C sharp minor and common-time.

The Choral et Fugue, Op 57, similarly based on plainsong and composed in 1962, is inscribed ‘À Monsieur Jean Gillet, curé de Saint-Sulpice. En souvenir du centenaire du Grand Orgue’. The Choral is a canonically ingenious four-part piece (Andante in F sharp minor 2/4) on the Salve regina. The succeeding gigue-like but no less contrapuntally ingenious Fugue (Allegro in A major) is based on the Easter Alleluia.

When Dupré’s Op 20 was published in 1923, it was titled ‘Variations sur un Noël’. Since then, however, it has been more often referred to as Variations sur un vieux Noël, the title under which it appears in the list of works appended to Marcel Dupré raconte …, the autobiographical volume which appeared in 1972. The tune is, of course, Noël nouvelet, an old French carol, the unmistakably first mode opening of which hints at an ancient liturgical origin, for it begins just like the plainsong Ave maris stella. As Dupré’s theme, it consists of six four-bar phrases, moderato 2/4, in which the modal tune in D is simply harmonized in four parts. In the succeeding movements, contrapuntal variations alternate with freer ones. Variation 1, a larghetto in common-time, divides the theme between tenor and treble on a trumpet stop, maintaining quaver counterpoint above or below it. Variation 2 loses sight of the theme in the chromatic twistings of a poco animato in 6/8. Variation 3 presents the theme, cantabile in canon at the octave between treble and bass against a rocking Voix Céleste accompaniment. Variation 4 has the theme staccato in the pedals, beneath piquant manual chords. Variation 5 is a scurrying right-hand study, vivace 6/8, with its triplet semiquavers lightly accompanied by staccato chords for left hand and pedals. Variation 6 is an ingeniously strict trio, presenting the theme in canon at the fourth and fifth. Variation 7 is another vivace, but one that bristles with appoggiaturas. Variation 8 presents the theme, cantabile, in canon at the second, between the pedals and Voix Humaine in the treble. Variation 9, in 3/8, is a brilliant study in thirds. Variation 10 is a fugato which presents the theme in diminution and augmentation before leading into a toccata. Here the theme roars in the pedals, first in the minor, then in the major, beneath a carillon of clashing chords.

Dupré made the first of his many visits to America in 1921. He refers in his memoirs to the evening of 8 December when, at a recital he was giving in the Wanamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia, he was offered several liturgical themes on which to improvise—Iesu redemptor omnium, Adeste fideles, Stabat mater dolorosa and Adoro te devote. He instantly decided to improvise an organ symphony in four movements which depicted in music the life of Jesus: ‘The world awaiting the Saviour’, ‘Nativity’, ‘Crucifixion’ and ‘Resurrection’. This improvisation became the basis of his Symphonie-Passion, Op 23, which he began to compose on his return to France.

The first movement, ‘Le monde dans l’attente du Sauveur’, presents Iesu redemptor omnium as a quiet second subject in contrast to the agitated pulsing of the opening main theme, over which the plainsong ultimately triumphs. ‘Nativité’ seems to describe first the crib and then the Wise Men’s approach, before finally presenting Adeste fideles against a gentle background. The ostinato rhythms and cruel, jagged harmonies of ‘Crucifixion’ resolve into a simple, quiet treatment of Stabat mater dolorosa, while ‘Résurrection’ is a vast crescendo based entirely on the Eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote.

If the popular Cortège et Litanie, Op 19 No 2, composed in 1922, is typical of a savant composer skilled in giving formal shape to a piece in which two contrasted themes combine in a final peroration, its second theme also suggests a specifically Russian melodic motif. Parisian composers of Dupré’s generation had become familiar with Russian music, sacred as well as secular. Moreover, the expatriate Alexander Glazunov, who lived his later years in Paris, was a composer friend whose own organ Fantaisie of 1934 is dedicated to Dupré.

The Cortège et Litanie began as five pieces of incidental music requested by a playwright friend and originally written for small orchestra. Then, on one of his American tours, Dupré was overheard playing the piece privately on the piano and was encouraged by another friend, the American impresario Alexander Russell, to transcribe it for organ: ‘You have the time … on the railway journey. It’ll be superb!’ And so it was. Later, Dupré wrote the version for organ and orchestra which he first gave in America on the huge Wanamaker organ with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski.

The composer himself gave the first English performance of the Deuxième Symphonie, Op 26, at the Alexandra Palace on 16 March 1930. Composed in 1929, five years after his first organ symphony, it develops the chromaticism and staccato, already evident in the Symphonie-Passion, which became characteristics of Dupré’s style.

Four elements go to the making of the ‘Preludio’: the harsh and brilliant theme heard at the outset; the following patter of semiquavers which is spun out in the manner of a toccata during the course of the movement; a restless theme scored for the Voix Célestes; and finally a short, fanfare-like phrase which later supplies the final page. The chromaticism of the ‘Intermezzo’, which is in B minor, is anything but lush in effect; rather does it give a pungent tang to its already perky theme. When semiquaver movement is introduced, the theme is repeated in G with the pedals doubling the melody. On its return to B minor the theme is accompanied by an anapaestic rhythm. The ‘Toccata’ is one of Dupré’s most fiery and telling movements. Its principal theme is hammered out at the start under bare fifths. A feature of the movement, and indeed of the entire work, is the chromatic alteration of various degrees of the scale. The resultant augmented intervals give an almost oriental twist to some of the melodic shapes.

Évocation, Op 37 composed in 1941, is the first of Dupré’s two symphonic poems for organ solo. The music bristles with such difficulties as passages in thirds, for feet as well as fingers, and four-note pedal chords. A dedication to the memory of his father explains its inspiration: ‘Dediée à la mémoire d’Albert Dupré, Organiste du grand-orgue de la Basilique de Saint-Ouen de Rouen de 1911 à 1929.’ Its first performance, given by Marcel Dupré himself, was in Rouen on 26 October 1942, at the second inauguration of that instrument after its restoration. (The original inauguration had been by Widor on 17 April 1890.)

The third movement of this tripartite piece begins ‘Allegro deciso’ with an insistent staccato on full organ. The main theme which follows returns rondo-like several times, alternating with reminiscences of the two previous movements. The tonal centre shifts frequently until the final ‘Allegro con moto (alla breve)’ and the ‘Largamente’ which ends in an unequivocal C major.

Felix Aprahamian © 1998

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