About this Recording
8.554378 - DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 9

Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Works for Organ, Vol. 9

Marcel Dupré was the musical successor to that great trio of Parisian organist-composers, Louis Vierne, Charles-Marie Widor and Alexandre Guilmant, all of whom taught him at the Paris Conservatoire. A brilliant recitalist, improvisateur and composer in his own right, Dupré also presided at the organ of St Sulpice Church in Paris from 1934 until his death. His many compositions in several liturgical and symphonic forms reflect a classical, orderly mind-set and a compositional style very much concerned with structure and traditional counterpoint but nonetheless enriched by an advanced, and sometimes polytonal, harmonic language.

Dupré's works for organ reflect his equal concern for the liturgical and concert rôles played by that instrument. A mind as searching and humanistic as his would not have been content with restricting the organ to its typical ecclesiastical confines (though what he does to revive the art of the church organist is on a par with Bach's work); rather, Dupré answers the urge to explore the outside world, to see what might transpire when organ and other instruments (beyond the voice) combine. Thus we are presented with the three major chamber works on this recording, while his compositions also include two concertos for organ and orchestra and three works for organ and piano.

The Sonata in A minor for violoncello and organ, Op. 60, is the last of Dupré's chamber works and is dedicated to the cellist Paul Bazelaire, a colleague at the Paris Conservatoire. It is a work of lyrical charm and very clear structure, the outer movements being in sonata form, with two contrasting themes. The middle movement, in ABA structure, achieves its contrast through a careful metrical shift that keeps the inner pulse constant but relaxes the outer. Waltz becomes song before reverting back to waltz – all with wit and ease.

The Trio for violin, violoncello and organ, Op. 55, is dedicated to Louis Chacaton, another colleague, and assistant director at the Paris Conservatoire. Elusive in structure and advanced in harmonic language, the three movements of the Trio nevertheless convey a strong forward thrust and make of the organ an equal partner to the demanding lines of the stringed instruments. The eerie writing for the strings at the end of the first movement, on the one hand, and the rambunctious presto finale of the third movement, on the other, illustrate the broad range of Dupré's musical mind.

The Quartet for violin, viola, violoncello and organ, Op. 52, is the earliest of the chamber works recorded here and, in some ways, the most easily comprehended. A hard-edged Preludio gives way to an airy, light-headed Scherzando. The Larghetto has all the charm and beguiling simplicity of folk-song and ends on an almost unresolved note in the organ part. The Rondo has an open-air feel about it and seems worlds away from the composer's more typically intellectual mode.

Regina Coeli, Op. 64, dates from the final years of Dupré's life and is dedicated to the memory of Denise Raffy, organist of the church in Elbeuf where Dupré's father had begun his career as an organist. Of the four Marian antiphons traditionally sung at the evening office of Compline, Regina Coeli is the one set aside for Eastertide. The alleluias of the text notwithstanding, Dupré seems to be charting a more meditative course than might be suggested by this tune and text at a superficial first liturgical glance. The almost hymn-like texture of the organ setting reflects a quiet joy and confidence in the resurrection and perhaps a certain reverence for the dedicatee, whose ecclesiastical association may have struck Dupré as poignant.

The Seventy-nine Chorales, Op. 28, represent an outstanding pedagogical achievement on the composer's part: not only do they serve the purpose of introducing to the beginner the chorale melodies employed by Bach; they also demonstrate to the organist how to compose or improvise on a given theme using a single motivic device – a great encouragement to those of us whose creativity needs occasional trimming. In this sense, this collection is Dupré's Orgelbüchlein and, like Bach's work, a generous nod toward the Protestant tradition of hymn-singing from the pen of a devout Catholic steeped in the ancient chant of the Church.

Bruce Neswick

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