Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Prelude and Fugue in A flat major, Op. 36 No. 2 (1938) [9:13]
Evocation (Poème Symphonique), Op. 37 (1941) [22:53]
Six Antiennes pour le Temps de Noël, Op. 48 (1952) [14:42]
Psaume XVIII (Poème Symphonique), Op. 47 (1949) [20:27]
Chorale and Fugue in F sharp major, Op. 57 (1962) [6:31]
Jeremy Filsell (organ)
rec. Ely Cathedral, Ely, UK. Dates not given.
Previously released as Gamut GAMCD 530
REGIS RRC 1321 [73:51]
Regis fills an important gap in the CD market, reissuing older, often premium-quality, recordings at super-budget prices. I recently had the pleasure of hearing a collection of Ravel’s music for two pianos, nominated as a Bargain of the Month - review. In terms of performance and recording, that is a splendid example of what Regis does best, even if the liner-notes leave a lot to be desired. Regrettably, the latter is also true of this Dupré disc, with a half-page devoted to a potted biography of the composer and some desultory reference to the music itself.
Not a promising start, although the laudatory back-cover ‘reviews’ from Gramophone suggest this is something rather special. Jeremy Filsell has recorded several discs of Dupré’s organ works for Guild, but as the provenance of this Ely recital was unclear I had to resort to Google. It turns out these performances date from the early 1990s, which means they were recorded well after Harrison & Harrison’s major restoration work on the organ in 1974-1975 and some years before their last refurb, carried out in 1999-2001. This instrument is a splendid beast, but I’m not convinced the cathedral’s reverberant acoustic is suited to this music, whatever the glowing reviews might say.
The Prelude and Fugue in A flat major is a case in point; the inner details of the prelude are simply lost in this vast space. Most distressing is the very poor quality of the remastering, the first bars sounding congested and unfocused. I haven’t heard the original recording, but I’d be surprised if this is what Gamut’s engineers intended. And this makes it difficult to gauge the quality of Filsell’s playing, although the fugue does seem less bloated. That said, bass is reasonably well extended, but the fugue’s mighty finale sounds rather aggressive. I may have been spoilt by the extremely high standards set by Fuga, Audite and Alba when it comes to organ recordings, but really this should sound a lot better than it does.
The three-movement Evocation is certainly well played, the Moderato especially so, textures and details more easily discerned. That said, there’s still something curiously uninvolving about the sound, even in the lovely Adagio con tenerezza. It’s all very dispiriting, but at least the quiet luminosity of the Six Antiennes pour le Temps de Noël is most beautifully realised. Indeed, the recording seems to work best when the dynamic range isn’t so wide or the textures so dense. In terms of performance and sound this is the most satisfying work here, despite my grumbles about the organ’s top-end jangle, reprised at the close of ‘Lumen et revelationem’.
The quieter moments of Psaume XVIII reveal a rather high level of ambient noise, but it isn’t enough to detract from the performance. It’s only in the pinched climaxes that one might be tempted to either turn down the volume or give up altogether. And that’s a pity, as Filsell clearly has the measure of this music, even if his playing isn’t as flamboyant or as distinctive as one would expect in this repertoire. However, he does capture the Messiaen-like mood of reflection and repose in the second part of the psalm.And yet there’s still the nagging sense that neither the music nor the character and strengths of the Ely instrument are well served here.
Dupré’s own recordings - some of which have appeared on YouTube - show him as a charismatic performer, and something of that mercurial quality can be heard in many of his organ pieces. The Chorale and Fugue in F sharp major is no exception, and I’m pleased to say Filsell does approach that level of dynamism at last. Regrettably, it’s too little too late, and I’m afraid I can’t work up much enthusiasm for this recital. When the performance and sound are so variable, even the super-budget price shouldn’t tempt you. Terribly disappointing.
When the performance and sound are so variable, even the super-budget price shouldn’t tempt you. Terribly disappointing.