Dupont: Les Heures Dolentes, La Maison Dans Les Dunes / Stephane Lemelin

Release Date: 6/28/2011
Catalog Number: ACD2 2544
Performer: Stéphane Lemelin
Number of Discs: 2

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews

DUPONT Les Heures dolentes. La Maison dans les dunes Stéphane Lemelin (pn) ATMA 2544 (2 CDs: 94:41)

It’s surprising, even amazing, that these two ambitious cycles of piano pieces by the short-lived Gabriel Dupont (1878–1914) have suffered from almost complete neglect. Imagine discovering new nocturnes by Fauré or preludes by Debussy—music with characteristics similar to Gabriel Dupont’s—for the first time. Dupont’s very poetic music, resourcefully written for the instrument, approaches that level.

He was born in Caen, in Normandy, the son of an organist. Before being admitted to the Paris Conservatory in 1895, Dupont had audited the composition classes of Massenet. Charles-Marie Widor became his principal teacher and a strong supporter. He won a second prize in the 1901 Prix de Rome contest. (Caplet was the first-prize winner; Ravel came in third). His verismo opera La Cabrera was a winner of the Italian Sonzogno competition, and his opera La Glu, about a homely seductress, was, according to Atma’s booklet notes by Valerie Dueck, “touted worldwide as the next Carmen. ” In addition to a selection of Mélodies , organ music, and a few chamber works, Dupont’s two piano cycles form an important part of his small oeuvre , and they complement each other. I don’t think that either cycle necessarily needs to be performed in its entirety, but repeated listening reveals what a purposeful overall design Dupont created, with contrasts between consecutive pieces that are either staid and reflective or more extroverted. There are also some recurring motives in each cycle.

Les Heures dolentes was composed between 1903 and 1905, as Dupont was suffering from his first case of tuberculosis. The titles of its 14 pieces suggest the thoughts and experiences of a convalescent. The somber opening movement, “Epigraphe,” strikes a foreboding tone, but the mood of the pieces varies from melancholy and plaintive (“Le Soir tombe dans la chamber,” “Le Médecin”) to disturbing (“La Mort rode,” “Nuit blanche. Hallucinations”) to giddy and even lighthearted (“Coquetteries,” “Des Enfants jouent au jardin”).

Dueck notes the typically French quality of pudeur in Dupont’s music, a feeling of discretion or understatement that it shares with the music of Fauré. Dupont’s quiet mastery of counterpoint and voice-leading also brings Fauré to mind, but Dupont’s romanticism is not always demure. There’s a richness of sonority and a penchant for strong, resonant octave bass lines that reflect his training with Widor. There’s also an unleashing of energy (and dissonance) in the stormiest pieces, like “Nuit blanche. Hallucinations,” or “La Mort rode” from Les Heures dolentes , or “Houles” from La Maison dans les dunes, that displays a more volatile emotional range than Fauré’s. Heard in the context of Dupont being a composer of melodramatic operas, a turbulent piece like “Le Chanson du vent” from Les Heures dolentes sounds something like a transcription of part of a Debussy-influenced Puccini opera.

La Maison dans les dunes is a product of Dupont’s temporary recovery in 1907–09. The imagery of its titles concerns the sea and the scenery of the island of Cap Ferret. It seems to me to be the richer of the two cycles, with even more variety and refinement than Les Heures dolentes . Its musical high point is reached in the final three pieces, the sensuous “Le Bruissement de la mer, la nuit”; the simple, radiant “Clair d’etoiles”; and “Houles,” a virtuosic, Lisztian finale that winds down quietly. One has the sense of a composer who is gaining an increasingly personal voice and whose poetic response to nature compares with Debussy’s.

Dupont’s piano cycles and Debussy’s two books of preludes are roughly contemporaneous; the two composers knew and respected each other, and they both quote the same folk tune, “Nous n’irons pas aux bois,” but Debussy is the innovator, Dupont the late representative of a French Romantic tradition. Dupont’s piano writing is colorful and lush, influenced by orchestral and organ sonorities, where Debussy’s often light-textured piano music is more attuned to the specific colors of the piano. Where Debussy’s preludes offer hints and suggestions, leaving the titles for the end, Dupont masterfully, perhaps somewhat dutifully, fills out his forms and textures.

Dupont’s complete piano music was once available on the Saphir label, recorded by the Bulgarian pianist Emile Naoumoff, one of Nadia Boulanger’s last pupils, but this Atma release now appears to be the only available recording. The Canadian pianist Stéphane Lemelin’s performance makes the most eloquent possible case for the music. He plays with touching, sober restraint when called for, but also supplies all of the surging energy, vivid colors, and considerable virtuosity that Dupont requires. His tempo choices, pacing, and phrasing beautifully elucidate the structure of each piece. Atma’s sound successfully captures a very wide range of dynamics from the piano.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Works on This Recording
1. Les heures dolentes by Gabriel Edouard Dupont
Performer: Stéphane Lemelin (Piano)
2. La maison dans les dunes by Gabriel Edouard Dupont
Performer: Stéphane Lemelin (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1905 ; France
Customer Reviews