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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Disc 1

Prelude and Fugue in B major Op.7 No.1 (1914) [6:54]
Esquisse in C major Op.41 No.1 (1945) [4:31]
Esquisse ‘No.1’ in E minor Op.41 No.2 [2:59]
Esquisse ‘No.2’ in B flat minor Op.41 No.3 [4:10]
Prelude and Fugue in G minor Op.7 No.3 (1914) [7:18]
Placare Christe servulis Op.38 No.16 (1943) [2:23]
Choral et Fugue Op.57 (1962) [7:08]
Te lucis ante terminum Op.38 No.5 (1943) [2:47]
Variations sur un vieux Noël Op.20 (1923) [11:44]
Disc 2

Symphonie-Passion Op.23 (1921) [29:11]
Cortège et Litanie Op.19 No.2 (1922) [6:56]
Deuxième Symphonie Op.26 (1929) [19:03]
Prelude and Fugue in F minor Op.7 No.2 (1914) [7:53]
Allegro deciso from Évocation Op.37 (1941) [6:41]
John Scott (organ)
Organ of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
rec. 9-11 March 1986 (CD 1), 5-6 January 1998 (CD 2)
HYPERION CDD22059 [50:25 + 70:33]

 

John Scott’s recordings of Dupré’s organ music for Hyperion are united here in their ‘twofer’ Dyad reissue series, and a very welcome budget release it is. I was introduced to works such as the Trois Esquisses through BBC Radio 3 broadcasts very many years ago, so warm nostalgia plus a sense of discovery for some of the other works make me enthusiastic about these CDs, and that’s before any comment on John Scott’s playing or Hyperion’s recordings.

Dupré studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Charles-Marie Widor, whom he succeeded in 1934 as Organist at Saint-Suplice in Paris. With Widor setting the style and standard of virtuoso concert organ writing with his organ symphonies it is hardly surprising that Dupré’s spectacular writing sometimes owes more than a little to his master, but the searching and troubled nature of the first of the Esquisses is very much in Dupré’s mature voice. The second and third Esquisse were originally published together, the genuine No.1 being discovered only in 1975. The second of this set of three is an exercise in staccato repeated notes, and the third a spectacularly demanding octave study – tough and challenging symphonic movements which advance the language of the romantic organ and dumps it firmly into the lap of the 20th Century.

Both the Placare Christe Servulis and Te lucis ante terminum come from a set of sixteen chorales based on plainsong, a source to which Dupré would return many times in his career. The themes which appear in the Preludes and Fugues Op.7 have something of this character, and relatively simple melodies bathed in a glowing, rolling, but always transparent accompaniment are a feature of his work. John Scott’s playing in all of these works is well nigh faultless to my mind, and the grand old organ of St. Paul’s in its vast acoustic responds as if made for the music. The programme on CD 1 ends with another old favourite, Variations sur un vieux Noël which is of course the old French carol ‘Noël nouvelet’. The modal nature of this theme suits Dupré’s layered language perfectly, and the whole thing is a sheer joy to hear in such a refined setting.

The second CD, recorded twelve year later than the first, offers a different perspective on the same instrument. The microphones have been placed further away this time, so that the hugely resonant acoustic of St. Paul’s Cathedral plays an even greater role. This is a more accurate impression of the incredible effect the instrument gives as one hears it from the public arena, but Dupré’s often highly detailed writing is harder to decipher as a consequence.

The first of the works on this second disc is the great Symphonie-Passion, a four movement work based on an improvisation the composer gave when giving a recital in Philadelphia. The four movements are ‘The World awaiting the Saviour’, ‘Nativity’, ‘Crucifixion’ and ‘Resurrection’, and these grand themes are treated to the full gamut of Dupré’s organistic expertise, from the naivety of the approaching wise men in the nativity, to the unrelenting chromaticism of the crucifixion.

Cortège et Litanie also exists in a version for orchestra and organ, and was indeed originally part of a five part set of incidental music written for small orchestra. The orchestral nature of a grand organ suits the music perfectly, the heavy tread of the cortège leading up to a Russian flavoured ‘Litanie’.

The Deuxième Symphonie combines the grand gestures, chromaticism and staccatos of the Symphonie-Passion, while at the same time looking forward to works such as the Esquisses. The middle Intermezzo movement is initially sparing, quirkily developing its sprightly theme into regions rich and strange. The finale, an extended Toccata, is craggy and by turns unyieldingly fiery and creepily menacing. Dupré’s Évocation Op.37 is a symphonic poem, the first of two the composer wrote for solo organ. The Allegro deciso is the third and last movement of this work, and takes the form of a fairly explosive and insistent staccato on full organ. The unequivocal C major conclusion of this movement is a fitting end to the monumental content of this CD.

Organ collectors will know more or less what to expect at St. Paul’s, and the Grand Organ has rarely sounded so good on record – especially in the first of these two CDs. Hyperion’s ‘dyad’ series doesn’t have any kind of budget feel to it, and full details of the instrument and substantial booklet notes give full satisfaction in this reissue. John Scott’s many years at St. Paul’s mean that he knows the instrument like few others, and his understanding and deft touch in Dupré make this collection a must-have.

Dominy Clements

 



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