The noted French organ school composer Marcel Dupre, who was also the official organist at St. Sulpice in Paris (where this SACD was recorded), was captivated by the musical possibilities of the series of poems by the poet Paul Claudel on Le Chemin de la Croix (The Stations of the Cross). In 1931 he performed a series of 14 organ improvisations at the Brussels Conservatory, each one preceded by a reading of the appropriate poem by Claudel. Later the composer was prevailed upon to write down his improvisations into a publishable suite, and this work is the result. He describes the various themes as symbolic but also traditional. In his own analysis of the work he mentions the use of certain musical ideas, such as four rising notes or a major triad, to represent specific religious ideas. The theme of suffering is of course primary. Dupre himself recorded his Op. 29 at St. Sulpice in the late 1950s, without the poems.
The organ of St. Sulpice is very old, and was last completely rebuilt in 1862. It has 100 stops, 5 manuals and pedals and is one of only three such organs in Europe. The very deep pipes sound in most of the 14 improvisations and the voluminous ambiance of the church is immediately apparent. With the standard CD layer mix things become quite muddy and run together; only with the SACD surround do the various lines in Dupre’s score begin to come out from the rolling and bassy sonic aura.
I was struck by how much like Messiaen’s organ works some of the movements sounded. There seemed to be an almost mystical atmospheric effect in some of the 14 sections; worlds different from a classic theme and variations form. Each of them is described in both French and English, so one can follow whether the programmatic aspect intended by Dupre seems to be successful or not. The JAV label specializes in pipe organ recordings and has done a fine job in both the recording of this skilled performance and in notating every aspect of it in detail in the accompanying notes.
– John Sunier