Dupré ‘De Profundis’ and Fauré ‘Requiem’ – Concert Review

Holy Trinity, Clapham Common – 3rd February 2001

An exciting taster for the Vasari Singers’ forthcoming CD

Dupré remains all too shadowy a figure in the awareness of concert-goers: organist at Saint-Sulpice but a widely travelled concert soloist, particularly in America, he developed a highly individual compositional style. This, whilst it may prefigure Duruflé or Messiaen at times, is nonetheless thoroughly original, characterised by a pantonal harmonic language and a superb sense of melodic invention. The De profundis is an early work (1917) and was fairly popular in France and America during Dupré’s lifetime, but it has scarcely been performed since his death-this may even have been the first complete English performance. It has a strong structure and some highly expressive passages. The writing for voices is demanding but effective, using some unusual textures and with some extraordinary harmonic shifts. The Vasari Singers were powerful advocates for the music, with fine-boned contrapuntal singing, muscular homophony and elegant phrasing throughout. The soloists were superb-the highlight of the performance was the soloists’ climax in the last movement, in which soprano soars to a high A and the tenor a bar later to a high B, on the word ‘luceat’. The choir sounded as if they, like the audience, were bowled over by this moment, but they recovered to end the piece with exquisite calm.

The organist Jeremy Filsell is well known as a champion of Dupré but it was in the Fauré Requiem, which ended the concert, that his playing really blossomed. There were many touches of colourful organ registration (the opening theme of the ‘Domine Deus’ with a quint on the melody line was notable among them) and his shaping of melodic lines and accompaniment figures was relaxed but purposeful. The whole piece was performed with delicacy of phrasing and eloquent control of tone colour from both singers and organist, paced expertly by conductor Jeremy Backhouse. Tempi may have been on the fast side for those who are more used to performances with large choral societies, but with a choir of the size that Fauré himself would have expected for the work’s first performance, and two soloists who integrated perfectly in both spirit and phrasing, this resulted in a performance that had both freshness and intimacy.

Two short motets by Dupré started the second half. They do not compare to the De profundis in compositional quality but have a charming simplicity, and they were an exciting taster for the Vasari Singers’ forthcoming CD which will include seven of these motets as well as the première recording of the longer work.

Copyright © David Bray 2001

© Jeremy Backhouse