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Gabriel DUPONT (1878-1914)
Complete Piano Music
Les Heures Dolentes [47:54]
La Maison dans les Dunes [39:14]
Deux Airs de ballet [4:53]
Feuillets D’Album [7:49]
Bo Ties (piano)
rec. 2017/18, University of Iowa Concert Hall, USA
MSR CLASSICS MS1699 [47:54 + 51:56]

Gabriel Dupont: another composer to add to the list of those who died from illness before they were 40 – Lekeu, Baines, Hurlstone, Kalinnikov, Chopin, Pergolesi, Bizet, Lili Boulanger, Gershwin, Mozart, Purcell, Schubert, Weber and doubtless many more. Perhaps unsurprisingly, six or seven of the above succumbed to TB, and Dupont actually composed substantial works whilst he was recuperating from severe tubercular attacks.

Occupying the whole of the first CD, and composed whilst recovering at Le Vésinet in the Île de France, Les Heures Dolentes (The Doleful Hours) is in 14 short parts – the shortest a mere 1:21 and the longest 6:27, in which the composer portrays his impressions of the things he sees and hears from his room as he quietly climbs his way back to a degree of health. ‘Impressions’ is quite a good word to use, since one can hear the influence of Debussy, but also Fauré, and the whole work is characterised by his subtle melodic gift. It has also been suggested that Schumann can be regarded as an influence, because of the tendency to incorporate mercurial and contrasting moods which Dupont’s music possesses.

The 14 sections carry such titles as ‘Le Soir Tombe dans la Chambre’ (The Evening Falls in the Room), ‘Le Médecin’ (The Doctor), ‘Au Coin de Feu’ (At the Fireside), and ‘Nuit Blanche – Hallucinations’ (Sleepless Night – Hallucinations), and in them Dupont succeeds in impressing upon the listener the plight of a melancholic, feverish young man, who had fate planned differently, would not have been confined in such a way. He manages scene painting for rainfall, a quiet Sunday afternoon, a storm, chatting up his nurses and most powerful of all, the horrors experienced during morphine-induced hallucinations, where the piano is made to crash and roar, conjuring up his desperate fear of malevolent spectres. I have really enjoyed this entire work and wonder why I’ve never come across it before.

The second disc contains some short, early pieces and a complete performance of his other large-scale piano suite, La Maison dans les Dunes (The House in the Dunes). It was completed in 1909, some four years after Les Heures Dolentes, whilst he was resident at a TB facility on the east coast of the Bay of Biscay. It is an area known for its sand-dunes, forests and the open sea, indeed, the final page of the score contains an epigraph by Nietzsche – “alone with the clear sky and the open sea”. The work consists of 10 sections, and the first six represent the sort of thing Dupont could have experienced as he walked amongst the dunes – boats bobbing on the waters, wind and rain, the tolling of bells on Easter Sunday and light shimmering on the splashing waves. The final four present aspects of night in the sea basin such as ‘Le Soir dans les pins’ which shows us the setting sun amongst the pine trees, whilst the soft yet relentless ‘Bruissement de la mer’ is presented almost as a lullaby. The last piece in the suite is entitled ‘Houles’ (Swells), and is a superb ending, where the sea in all its power is represented by cascading arpeggios and stormy configurations. If anything, it possesses greater contrasts between sections than the earlier work, and I have enjoyed it even more.

The fill-ups are early apprentice pieces composed while Dupont was at the Paris Conservatoire. They are conventionally pleasant and could probably have been composed by any competent student. Unsurprisingly, they bear little or no resemblance to his mature works. The Feullets d’Album are the more adventurous of the two, and were dedicated to Louis Vierne who had become a friend of Dupont. Perhaps the most attractive is the third item, ‘Berceuse’, whose gentle rocking quality might be thought to foreshadow the lyricism of parts of his later works.

The recorded quality is excellent, with a full-toned piano set in a pleasing acoustic. I have not been able to compare Bo Ties’ (pronounced teece) performance with other recordings, but things sound just fine. The booklet is amply detailed, both biographically and in its descriptions of the music; in short, the production values are excellent.

I wish that MSR had managed to muster the resources to record Dupont’s Piano Quintet - Poeme. A lengthy piece at just over 30 minutes, it would have fitted easily on the second CD, and I can find only one currently available recording, on a Mirare disc, coupled with excerpts only from Les Heures Dolentes and La Maison dans les Dunes. However, I must be grateful for what we have, and on the strength of what I’ve heard here I have ordered CD’s of his most ambitious opera, Antar.
Jim Westhead

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