Dupré: Works for Organ, Vol. 6 (Alassio Bax/ Stefan Engels) (Naxos: 8.554210)
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Marcel Dupre was born into a musical family in Rouen in 1886. His fatherwas an organist who had been a pupil of Guilmant and taught his son from thetime the boy was eleven. Dupre was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire atsixteen, and among his teachers was Widor, whose assistant he became at thegreat Paris church of Saint-Sulpice four years later. Having won the covetedGrand Prix de Rome in 1914, he began his rise to fame with internationalrecital tours, in which he performed, in Paris and New York, Bach's completeorgan works from memory, a remarkable feat which had been his ambition since hewas a child. His American debut concluded with an improvised four-movementorgan symphony, described at the time as 'a musical miracle'.
In 1925 he bought a house in the Parisian suburb of Meudon, where he hada house organ installed which had belonged to Guilmant. Pupils from all overthe world were soon to flock here. A year later he was appointed professor of organat the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included both Jehan andMarie-Claire Alain, Jean Guillou, Jean Langlais and Olivier Messiaen. In 1934he succeeded Widor as organist of Saint-Sulpice, a position he held for therest of his life, improvising, as has always been the custom in France, for theMass and Office, unfailingly matching the music to the occasion. He alsopublished a famous edition of Bach's organ works, as well as textbooksincluding the well-known Cours d'Improvisation. In the succeeding yearsuntil his death in 1971 he received many honours and awards, and composed worksthat now appear on recital programmes and in recordings all over the world. Onthe morning of the very day of his death, at home in Meudon, he played his twofinal Masses at Saint-Sulpice.
The present recording of Dupre's organ music includes all three worksthat he composed for piano and organ together. The Sinfonia for Piano andOrgan, Opus 42, written in 1946, was included in the composer's NorthAmerican tour of that year. It is, like Liszt's Piano Sonata, a singlemovement which embraces the notions of first and slow movement, scherzo andfinale. There are four themes which are used in various guisesthroughout the work. The opening, marked Animato, is in a percussivestyle; the second theme, Poco pi?? animato, is a chromatic melody used asa passage between other more significant themes. On this occasion it leads intothe steady siciliano-style third theme, marked Cantabile. The fourththeme, marked Andante, is the most expressive of all, and forms the slowsection. The third theme re?¡-emerges, introduced by a fileuse-pattern onthe piano, (La fileuse [The Spinner] is the title of one of Dupre's soloorgan pieces). The 'finale' simplifies the opening melody into a tarantella in6/8 time.
The Ballade, Opus 30, dates from 1932 and was inscribed, like theSinfonia, to the composer's daughter Marguerite Tollet-Dupre. Father anddaughter performed it at many of her debuts, in London and Brussels, as well asallover France. There are many similarities between this work and the Sinfonia.
Although one cannot speak of four movements, there are again four ideas,with the second one subsidiary to the others. Other fileuse-patternsappear, colouring the central portion of the work until the music erupts intoringing chords and arpeggios. In contrast to the Sinfonia, the openingis slow and pastoral, with hints of distant bells, after which the movementgradually increases in speed towards the "spinning-wheel" section.
The third theme leads towards the central climax. The fourth theme appearsfirst quietly, then loud, after which a sudden drop both in dynamics and tempoannounces the return of the third theme, in the piano's left hand, combinedwith the fourth idea on the organ. There is a race towards the mighty climax atthe finish.
Marguerite Dupre made her American debut with Variations on TwoThemes, Opus 35, on 29th September, 1937 (the year of composition). The twothemes are readily distinguishable in that the beginning of the first one fallsmelodically, and the start of the second rises. They are heard alternately tobegin with. Following a number of variations, the two are combined, first in aquestion-and-answer sequence. The solo variation for the piano, where the firsttheme is heard upside down, with all the rising intervals falling, and viceversa, is a useful landmark. From here onwards the themes are combined in evermore complex ways. One variation has five beats a bar and contains a fugue inthe piano based on the second theme. The final variation is in five-time again,and the work is rounded off in a short, sharp coda.
The surprisingly simple Eight Short Preludes on Gregorian Themes,Opus 45, written in 1948, for manuals only, contrast immensely with the grandeurof most of the composer's music. This is Dupre's style pared down to its bareessentials, much as in the Seventy-Nine Chorales, Opus 28. The Gregorianthemes are medieval hymns, still sung in their original plainsong. Dupre treatsmany of them canonically, one part imitating another, as it makes itsoverlapping entry. In Salve regina ('Hail, Queen') the first ten notesof the theme are heard repeated at different pitches. Virgo Dei genitrix ('VirginMother of God') is a miniature toccata, the theme in one hand, and the typicalrapid patterns in the other, culminating in a canon where the left hand followsthe right. Pange lingua ('Sing, my tongue') has the theme in the middlevoice, decorating it with a simple four-note pattern. Sacris solemniis ('Insolemn rites') is accompanied by continuous staccato scales. Almaredemptoris mater ('Sweet Mother of the Redeemer') reflects the meaning ofthe words in its solo for the right hand, with a hushed accompaniment in theleft. Similarly, Ave verum corpus ('Hail, true Body') expressesreverence in the gently pulsating left-hand accompaniment to another canon inthe right hand. Lauda Sion ('Praise, O Sion') is much louder and is afugue for three voices, somewhat martial in style. Verbum supernum (Wordfrom above) is another toccata, containing a great many forceful chordalpassages to conclude this set of pieces.
Stefan Engels was born in Germany. He studied organ, piano, harpsichord,conducting and church music in Aachen, D??sseldorf and Cologne, and in 1993moved to the United States to pursue further organ studies with Robert Andersonand Wolfgang R??bsam. In 1995 Engels received the Artist Diploma degree in organperformance from Southern Methodist University. He has participated in masterclasses with Marie-Claire Alain, Guy Bovet, Ewald Kooiman, Ludger Lohmann,G??nther Kaunzinger, and Harald Vogel, and won several awards and prizes,including first prize in the 1994 William C. Hall Organ Competition in SanAntonio and the Concerto Competition at Southern Methodist University inDallas. He was a finalist in the 1996 American Guild of Organists NationalOrgan Competition. Stefan Engels has performed throughout the United States andGermany as soloist, accompanist and member of ensembles and has held positionsas organist, director of music and choirmaster in Germany and America. He iscurrently Associate Organist of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.
Alessio Bax graduated with top honours at the age of fourteen from theConservatory of Bari in Italy. At sixteen, he was awarded a full scholarship tostudy with the renowned pianist Joaquin Achucarro at So