Déjà Review: this review was first published in February 2005 and the recording is still available.

Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Organ Works Volume 6
Ben van Oosten (organ)
rec. 2004, Eglise St-Jean Baptiste, Montréal, Canada
MDG 31612882 [59]

This series on MDG has been hugely impressive using appropriate and varied instruments, so far including La Madelaine, St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and now a large early 20th century Casavant in Montreal. Ben van Oosten’s sixth volume comprises music for Christmas including the famous Variations sur un Noël, the Offertoire ‘Il est né’ and several of the 79 Chorales from opus 28. Also of interest are the Six Antiennes pour le Temps de Noel, opus 48.

Ben van Oosten’s studies included a period in Paris with André Isoir, one-time organist of St Germain-des-Prés. Van Oosten is also Professor of Organ at the Rotterdam Conservatorium, organist of the Grote Kerk in Den Haag (where he plays a fine Metzler) and enjoys a world-wide recital career. His recording of 19th and 20th century French and Belgian music (including cycles of Lemmens, Vierne, Widor, Guilmant) have received widespread acclaim.

Dupré travelled extensively as a recitalist and was organist of St Sulpice in Paris for many years as well as Professor of Organ at the CNSM in Paris. His skill as an improviser was legendary and his influence on a generation of organists was considerable.

The disc opens with the Offertoire ‘Il est né, le divin enfant.’ These are in the form of a set of variations of character and colour, and one could imagine their origin in a concert improvisation. The disc closes with Dupré’s most famous variations, those on a French Carol tune, dating from 1922. These were inspired by the organs in twelve American and European cities: London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Chicago, St Paul, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Van Oosten makes light work of the piece’s considerable technical demands- the parallel thirds on the Cromorne sound positively easy! The registrations and tempi are well chosen, and I cannot think of a finer interpretation. The Casavant organ has a musical personality, aided by some reverberation time in the building.

The 79 Chorals were written for didactic purposes, and Van Oosten includes all those for the Christmas season, which number seventeen in all. Many deploy variation techniques: cantus firmus in soprano with chromatic underlay; melody in the tenor voice; triplets; fonds 16/8/4; tutti and so on. The full organ is very impressive, complete with Bombarde reeds and 32 foot reed. Each piece is less than 3 minutes in length and some would be suitable as voluntaries or as sets in recital programmes. The playing is uniformly refined, musical and enjoyable.

But perhaps the main interest lies with the Six Antiennes pour le Temps de Noël, opus 48. These are based on the antiphon plainsong themes for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and are musically more developed and extended than opus 28. The first ‘Ecce Dominus veniet’ features some enchanting foundation tone and a chromatic harmonic language, whilst the second ‘Omnipotens sermo tuus’ has a gentle, singing quality. The third ‘Tecum principium’ uses string tone and each of the quieter movements has a pleasing suppleness. The fourth ‘Germinavit radix Jesse’ begins on a plein jeu registration with plainsong in long note values in the pedal. The fifth ‘Stella iste’ makes use of softer combinations and the last of the set ‘Lumen ad revelationem’ is a brilliant toccata ending with an impressive tutti.

The two movements of Annociation (opus 56) are more modern in harmonic idiom. I found these more difficult to grasp but they provide some stylistic variety on the disc.

The CD booklet is first-rate as one would expect from MDG. There are several historical photos of Dupré, lengthy programme notes in three languages and a full history of the organ and specification.

Recommended without reserve. Player, music and instrument are perfectly matched.

Graham Mark Scott

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Offertoire ‘Il est né, le divin enfant’ [4’39]
Seventy-Nine Chorales, opus 28
No. 59 Come now, Saviour [1’04]
No. 54 Praise God [0’39]
No. 68 Out of high heaven [0’46]
No. 41 In quiet joy [1’46]
No. 53 Praise the Lord [0’46]
Annonciation, opus 56
I E major [3’54]
II G major [3’14]
Seventy-Nine Chorales, opus 28
No. 19 This day is full of gladness [1’10]
No. 63 The Child was born [0’44]
No. 28 The Son of God is come [1’14]
No. 27 Praise to thee, Jesus Christ [0’57]
No. 75 We Christians [1’31]
No. 14 Give praise to Christ Jesus [1’00]
Six Antiennes pour le Temps de Noël, opus 48
I Ecce Dominus veniet [2’54]
II Omnipotens sermo tuus [3’31]
III Tecum principium [2’35]
IV Germinavit radix Jesse [1’55]
V Stella iste [2’04]
VI Lumen ad revelationem [2’30]
Seventy-Nine Chorales, opus 28
No. 69 From heaven above [1’06]
No. 18 The Holy Christ shall be [0’58]
No. 29 Help me glorify [1’02]
No. 17 The old year is passed [0’53]
No. 30 Christ my Lord [0’45]
No. 74 How bright shineth [1’05]
Variations sur un Noël, opus 20 [13’02]