There have been,
I believe, at least three previous recordings of Dupré’s masterpiece.
There’s a Naxos version by Mary Preston (8.554379). Jeremy Filsell
recorded it as part of his critically acclaimed intégrale
of Dupré’s organ music for Guild (see review).
And most recently a version by Ben van Oosten appeared on the
Dabringhaus und Grimm label (MDG3160953-2). I’ve seen reviews
elsewhere praising all three of these versions. However, as
far as I am aware, this present version from Friedhelm Flamme
differs from all of them in at least one important respect.
Flamme’s performance is interspersed with six passages of Gregorian
chant for Passiontide. These are sung by the Gregorianik-Schola
Marienmünster under the direction of Hans Hermann Jansen.
Le Chemin de la Croix originated as a set of improvisations. In February 1931 Dupré gave a recital
in Brussels. He played some Bach and then there took place a reading
of Le Chemin de la Croix (1911)
by the French poet, playwright
and sometime diplomat, Paul Claudel (1868-1955). After each
of Claudel’s verse meditations on the Stations of the Cross
Dupré played a short improvisation inspired by the preceding
reading. In the following year, having elaborated and written
down the improvisations, he gave the première of the work we
has chosen to play Dupré’s great work on the new Mühleisen organ
in the Church of St. Anastasius and St. Innocentius in Bad Gandersheim,
in Lower Saxony, Germany. It would appear from the notes accompanying
this CD that the church itself dates back to at least the fifteenth
century. In the 1980s it was decided to install a new organ
and the Strasbourg firm of organ builders, Mühleisen, built
the new instrument between 1996 and 2000. It was inaugurated
on Easter Sunday 2000. The organ has three manuals as well as
a pedal board and there are 50 stops on it, including a 32-foot
Bourdon stop on the pedals. A full specification is included
in the documentation. I should say straightaway that it sounds
to be a magnificent organ, offering a wide range of tonal colours,
which Friedhelm Flamme exploits resourcefully and to the full.
He and the organ have been served splendidly by the CPO engineers.
The recording, which I heard as a conventional CD, is stunning
in its range and immediacy.
The short organ
pieces, the longest of which plays here for fractionally over
6’00”, are mainly sombre in tone and often measured in tempo.
This is in keeping with the subject matter. There’s not much
that’s overtly illustrative, rather Dupré builds atmosphere
to telling effect. The organist doesn’t get too many opportunities
for bravura display (though the tumultuous ninth station, ‘Jésus
tombe pour la troisième fois’ (track 13) is something of a virtuoso
test). However, the pieces constitute nonetheless a searching
examination both of technique and of the organist’s intellectual
application and emotional response to the music. It seems to
me that Friedhelm Flamme passes these tests triumphantly.
There are a few
powerful episodes in the cycle, such as the aforementioned ninth
station and also the eleventh station, ‘Jésus est attaché sur
la Croix’ (track 16). However it is compassion, suffering and
sadness that predominate in these pieces and Flamme conveys
all this with proper intensity and feeling. He plays the fourth
station, ‘Jésus rencontre sa mère’ (track 6) with supreme sensitivity
and also captures well the pathos that characterises much of
the twelfth station, ‘Jésus meurt sur la Croix’ (track 17).
In his hands the concluding ‘Jésus est mis dans la sépulcre’
(track 20) is a poignant slow march and the last pages have
a quiet, gentle serenity that is musically and spiritually most
Le Chemin de
la Croix is a fine work of art but it’s also a devotional
piece and that comes across very well in this dedicated performance.
The interpolations of chant serve only to enhance both Dupré’s
music and Flamme’s incisive and atmospheric account of it. The
chosen pieces of chant are adroitly placed. Thus, for example,
we hear ‘Pange lingua gloriosi’ as a prelude to the whole programme.
‘ Populus meus, quid feci tibi’ follows immediately after the
eighth station which depicts Jesus consoling the women of Jerusalem.
Most appropriately of all, ‘Stabat Mater dolorosa’ comes between
the twelfth station - the death of Jesus - and the thirteenth
in which his body is given back to his mother. I’m not sure
how many (male) singers comprise the Gregorianik-Schola Marienmünster.
This is a specialist group founded in 1999 by Hans Hermann Jansen.
Here they sing the chants uncommonly well and they are recorded
with just the right ambience round the voices.
in English, French and German, includes all the texts of the
chants. I have only one criticism of the documentation, indeed
of the whole enterprise. There is a somewhat woolly note about
the idea of combining the chant with the organ music, which
is fine so far as it goes. However, there is very little indeed
about the music itself and I think an opportunity has been lost
to comment on the music and how Dupré constructed his marvellously
evocative pieces. As the music was inspired by Claudel’s verses
in an ideal world it would have been nice to have them reproduced
and included in the booklet but that’s a counsel of perfection.
Apart from my one
caveat about the documentation I have nothing but praise for
this issue. Here we have deeply felt and evocative organ music
superbly interpreted and played. The plainchant interpolations,
devotedly performed, enhance the organ music and are in just
the right proportions – any more would have risked distracting
the listener from Dupré’s masterpiece. The recorded sound is
state of the art, even “simply” in CD format. This is one of
the finest organ discs I’ve heard in years and even if you already
have a version of Le Chemin de la Croix in your collection
I suggest you consider investing in this issue as well. Recommended
very strongly indeed.