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Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971)
Symphonie-Passion, Op.23 (1924) [30:03]
Suite bretonne, Op.21 (1923) [13:15]
Symphonie No.2 in C sharp minor, Op.26 (1929) [19:22]
Variations sur un vieux noël, Op.20 (1922) [11:23]
Thomas Trotter (organ)
rec. 31 October-2 November 1995. Princeton University Chapel, New Jersey, USA
Presto CD
DECCA 452 478-2 [74:19]

When this CD was first released almost three decades ago, it was in the midst of something of a Marcel Dupré revival; major recordings of his organ music were emerging from Guild and Naxos, both of whom were trawling their way through his complete organ output, while for Hyperion, John Scott was issuing a two-disc set of Dupré organ music which many argue has never been bettered. As a result, Thomas Trotter’s recording of these four substantial works, all dating from the 1920s, on the huge Aeolian-Skinner instrument of the Princeton University Chapel possibly did not get the attention it deserved. The renewed availability of it through the Presto Classical website provides the opportunity to reconsider, especially as we are marking the 50th anniversary of Dupré’s death this year - an anniversary which has not, perhaps, attracted as much attention from the record labels as one might have expected.

There is, it must be said, an issue with this recording, which, for me, puts it firmly out of the running in looking for must-have recordings of this music. The sound is far too recessed. To hear any of the detail you really need to crank the volume up quite a lot, and as a result the sheer dynamic range of both organ and music is rather lost. This is unfortunate, not least because Trotter’s playing of these works is most impressive, if not quite of the very highest order.

One thing which seeps through all four works, is speed. The young Trotter (he was in his 30s when these recordings were made) was very much an organist with a stellar technique which he clearly relished demonstrating in the most demanding repertory; and I suspect that the more elderly Trotter (he is now approaching pensionable age) would be inclined to a more expansive approach. The opening of the Symphonie-Passion emerges almost as an express train shattering along urgently in the far distance, Trotter imbuing it with great nervous energy and with the gradual increase in volume masterly handled. The very aggressive reeds of the Princeton organ will not be to everyone’s taste, but they certainly seem to add grit to what is one of Dupré’s more acerbic movements. The more gentle sounds of the Suite bretonne are rather lost because of the recording quality, but aggression is very much the order of the day in the 2nd Symphony, those reiterated chords of the final Toccata coming across like the repeated punching of a champion pugilist.

A much more fulsome tour through the instrument comes with this very colourful but often rather breathless account of the Op.20 Variations on an Old French Noël. Trotter’s fingerwork is never less than immaculate and the organ responsive enough to avoid anything becoming too clouded – especially the ghostly waltz-like variation (no.9). On top of that, Trotter paces the endings of each variation to avoid that sense of chunkiness which so often comes from a back-to-back set of short variations played quickly. |But even so, many will find this all just a little too fast for comfort, and while we can only marvel at the athleticism in fingers and feet in the fugato variation (no.10), it feels more like an exhibition of virtuoso technical delivery than the prologue to the culminating Toccata – which here has all the wind-swept glories one would expect, the transformation brought about the move to the major tonality (10:34) as spine-tingling as could be.

Marc Rochester

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