Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) is one of music’s
greatest unsung heroes. Virtually unknown outside the ranks
of organ aficionados, he was an exceptional teacher (Messiaen
was amongst his pupils), an indefatigable international recitalist
(an interesting programme-note records that shortly before his
death he gave his 2,178th recital) and, in his mastery of improvisation
and counterpoint, worthy to be bracketed with no less a figure
than J S Bach.
Unfortunately, little of his other music is
heard in this country (though the magnificent Westminster Cathedral
Choir 1997 disc of French church music [Hyperion CDA66898] included
his splendid Four Motets op 9) and it would be fascinating
to hear some of his orchestral compositions.
For this recording Lecaudey has chosen another
recently rebuilt instrument by Pascal Quoirin (1977-83). This
is considerably larger than the Castres organ (his recital on
which I have reviewed elsewhere): its fearsome collection of
reeds including a mighty 32’ Bombarde. I find its full organ
tone much more agreeable than that of the Castres organ.
Once again Lecaudey displays a dazzling technical
mastery and an imaginative command of the tone-colours at his
disposal. The first and third of Dupré’s early Three
Preludes & Fugues are well known; equally welcome is
the less familiar second, much less flamboyant than the other
two, in Lecaudey’s immaculate performance: for balance and clarity
of line, it could not be better done. The organ is equipped
with a particularly rich department of flute stops, heard to
brilliant effect in the mercurial G minor prelude, whose relentless
torrent of semiquaver triplets is delivered with remarkable
rhythmic accuracy (sample 1).
The Versets originated as improvisations
and provide eloquent testimony to Dupré’s astonishing
prowess in that art. Rooted in plainchant, they are mainly devotional
in character, though they conclude with a typically brilliant
Toccata. The hypnotic little motif which dominates Cortege
et Litanie bears a striking resemblance to Alain’s later
Litanies (sample 2).
Finally we have one of Dupré’s best
known works – his Variations sur un Noel, which is a
vehicle for both his contrapuntal ingenuity (canons at the second,
fourth and octave, for instance) and deft colour-contrasts.
It too ends with a blazing Toccata in which the 32’ Bombarde
comes into its own. (In passing, I must commend Lecaudey for
his consistently crisp endings: not for him that absurd prolongation
ad infinitum of final chords so beloved of many English
organists who really ought to know better – sample 3).
Excellently recorded, thoroughly recommended.
I hope that the second volume of this important collection comes