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.
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
For this recording Lecaudey
has chosen another recently (1977-83) rebuilt instrument by
Pascal Quoirin. 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 and 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 Cortège 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).
thoroughly recommended. I hope that the second volume of this
important collection comes my way!