Though I was aware of the well-liked Guild ‘Complete Organ Works
of Dupré’, performed by Jeremy Filsell, and of a similar series
on Naxos, the existence of a third series in process from Ben
van Oosten on the MDG label had somehow eluded me. I am, however,
glad to make its acquaintance belatedly with the ninth volume
in the series, even if these are not Dupré’s best, or best-known
works. Played alongside the most recent Dupré organ work that
I have reviewed, his Prelude and Fugue in g minor on Christopher
Herrick’s Organ Fireworks XII (CDA67612)
these are very small beer.
Like my colleague CB, reviewing Volume 7 – see
– I find myself praising the performances but left slightly
out in the cold by the music. The 24 Inventions take
almost as long to perform as Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations
and, though they employ the title Invention, I know which of
these works displays the greater degree of that quality. MDG
are recording the music in more or less chronological order
and, sadly, I have to agree with CB that it is his earlier music
which makes the greater impact. I have to confess that I began
this review several weeks ago and, convinced that I had finished
it and sent it off, set it to one side. Mea culpa, mea maxima
culpa, MDG. As I now discover, that must have been due to
some deeply unconscious memory that the music had not appealed
GMS praised Volume 6 in this series unreservedly,
though he admitted to finding the later music on that volume,
the two-movement Annonciation, Op.56, harder to come
to terms with than the Op.28 and Op.48 works with which it is
coupled – see review.
Op.56 came between the Inventions of 1956 and the Trois
Hymnes (1963). The notes which accompany Volume 9 admit
that this was not a very creative period for Dupré: at the age
of 68 he had reluctantly agreed to become Director of the Paris
Conservatoire, not a position to which he was naturally well
suited – he described it as a preview of purgatory.
Those notes describe the Inventions as exquisite.
I am sure that some of them would make an excellent preamble
for a congregation awaiting the beginning of Mass, Vespers or
its English equivalent Evensong in a collegiate church or cathedral.
They are emphatically not my cup of tea for hearing one after
the other, though I admire their craftsmanship. Like Bach’s
Well-tempered Klavier, they explore all the major and
minor keys from C major to e-flat minor; alternating major and
minor, they ought to offer a pleasing variety – which they do,
in a sense – but I perceive them as far more of an academic
exercise than the Bach.
Nor was I much more impressed with the Three
Hymns, for Matins, Vespers and Lauds. The notes inform us
that the music is modal and liturgical in character but not
based on any existing tunes – which means that the term ‘liturgical’
is actually meaningless in this context. The notes are correct,
however, in saying that the music evokes a monastic – I’d rather
say ‘contemplative’ – atmosphere, though the final piece, Lauds,
is vigorous in nature.
Again, I can imagine myself admiring the music
more as a prelude to one of these services or as an interlude
between Matins and Lauds when these services are run together,
as they usually were in the Tridentine rite, before Vatican
II replaced them with the mundane English of Morning Prayers.
Are the vernacular translations in other languages as awful
as the modern Roman and Anglican versions, which often cut perversely
across the flow of the Latin cursus, so beautifully respected
by Cranmer’s 16th-century originals? “The Lord be
with you – And with thy spirit” is dignified; “And also with
you” falls flat on its face and refuses to get up. Don’t even
try to sing it. Wisely, Radio 3 broadcasts of Anglican Choral
Evensong still employ the 1662 version in preference to the
Though I knew that there was no underlying chant,
something made me keep listening expectantly, as if I might
find something. Perhaps it was the knowledge that 20th-century
French organ composers do often use Gregorian themes – Duruflé’s
Quatre Motets, for example – which made me listen for
the non-existent, or maybe it was due simply to the fact that
I love and review a lot of Renaissance music where I have become
accustomed to listening for a cantus firmus.
I cannot fault the performances or the recording.
The organ, too, that of the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont,
Paris, is ideal for the music. First built by Le Pescheur in
1636 and most recently rebuilt in 1991, its greatest claim to
suitability lies in its Cavaillé-Coll rebuild of 1863. I’m sure
that Dupré can be played on other organs – as witness the Herrick
recording to which I have referred, on the organ of Haderselev
Cathedral, Denmark – but it certainly helps. The booklet contains
a full specification of the instrument, though the registration
chosen for each piece is not given.
You may like the music here much more than I did
– try before you buy, if possible. Far better, though, to go
for one of the excellent versions of Dupré’s Chemin de la
Croix – van Oosten’s own well-liked version (MDG 316 0953-2)
or the CPO SACD with interpolated Passiontide chants, which
JQ praised so highly (777 128-2 – see review
– also available as a 320kbps mp3 download from classicsonline.com
for £7.99). For a 2-CD introduction to Dupré’s music, try John
Scott’s Hyperion recording, recently reissued as a lower-mid-price
Dyad set (CDD22059 – see DC’s enthusiastic review).
The Guild series is available to download in mp3
format from Chandos’s theclassicalshop.net for £6.00 per volume:
Le Chemin de la Croix is on Volume 10, GMCD7193. Some
Guild recordings are also available to download on emusic but
not, apparently, any of the Dupré series.
My lukewarm reaction to this Dupré CD may have
been coloured by the fact that I listened to it just after playing
Jennifer Bate’s splendid Beauvais recording of Messiaen’s Les
Corps Glorieux – strongly recommended as an mp3 download from
theclassicalshop.net for a mere £4.50 as part of their Messiaen
centenary year special offer: no booklet of notes, but a splendid