Album Review

Posted: Saturday 11th January 2003
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Dupré: La France au Calvaire – Classical MusicWeb

Guild might well be labelled, or claim to be, ‘The Dupré Specialist’, having recorded all his solo organ works. Dupré did not consider himself a ‘composer’ in the orthodox sense. The usual informative Guild booklet quotes his self deprecating comments, made in 1942 at the height of his career:- ‘I do not think of myself as a composer … I have specialised in the organ, and I do not have the reputation that composers have’. That is as maybe, but the major work on this CD, claimed as ‘A World Premiére Recording’ is his Opus 49 written in 1952-53. It was written, like his other major choral work, ‘Die Profundis’, in response to the ravages inflicted on the people of France by two World Wars; in this case in response to the devastation wreaked on Rouen Cathedral by Allied bombing. It was also a tribute to Dupré’s birthplace and was completed in time for the joint celebration of the restoration of the Cathedral and the 500th anniversary of the official pardon of Joan of Arc in 1956. The movements of the work are dedicated to six French saints plus ‘Prologue’ and ‘Final’. The full French texts are given with English translation.

An extract from Au Calvaire appeared on this label, with the same forces, in the autumn of 2001, and was justifiably acclaimed. Here, the full work is dramatically overwhelming with the choir moving through many emotions with well-articulated sonorous singing. The organ accompaniment receives full due in this recording but it is the musical marrying of the choir with the instrument that makes such an impact. The male soloists could be steadier (tr.1 and 2) whilst the soprano floats her ‘Sainte Clotilde’ (tr.6) on a silvery tone of voice. The mezzo, as ‘La France’, is grander in tone and declamation (tr.11). Above all it is Jeremy Backhouse and the Vasari Singers that make this work an overwhelming experience.

I am all in favour of filling discs. My first thoughts were that the three motets should have been placed to follow the Dupré. Second thoughts prevailed; the motets would sound even more trite in comparison with the main work. They are worthy, but distinctly lesser works. Nonetheless they are given the full ‘Vasari’ treatment and benefit from it, as does our enjoyment.

Robert J Farr
Classical MusicWeb