Reviews Jonathan Dimmock in The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians: "Jeremy Filsell has recorded on two Möller organs . . . taking advantage of their enormous range of expressive power and his dazzling facility to communicate extremely difficult and complex musical structures. His choice of programming is phenomenal . . . Filsell's command of the repertoire, his expressiveness at the organ, his impeccable technique, his overt musicality, and his obvious love of the music make this an incredible recording. Much of this music is not in the normal concert literature that we often hear; it is refreshing to find all of this meaty repertoire and to its being placed in the light of day. The organs at the Shrine sound stunning. The main instrument may have the "meanest" low pedal reeds in the entire world. (At least, I've never heard anything more fearsome than these.) Enormous kudos to Jeremy Filsell."
In a set of two CDs for the price of one CD, Jeremy Filsell marks the 40th anniversary of the 172-rank organ at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D. C., by recording mostly major works associated with this organ. The instrument comprises actually two separate organs that are also playable as a single entity: the main organ in the south gallery (compass south, liturgical west) houses 6,751 pipes in 124 ranks and that in the compass west chancel, 2,642 pipes in 48 ranks. The instrument was built 1969-1984 by the M. P. Möller Company, now defunct, formerly of Hagerstown, Maryland. Filsell served the Shrine as Principal Organist for about one year 2008-2009, and became Artist in Residence at the National Cathedral in 2010.
Jean Langlais: Trois Esquisses Gothiques:
Veni Creator • Virgo Dei Genetrix • Séquence pour la fête de la Dédicace
Fernando Germani: Toccata
Maurice Duruflé: Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain Op. 7
Flor Peeters: Three Chorale Preludes from Op. 39:
Von liebe kommt gross • Leiden
Mit diesem neuen Jahre •
Nun sei wilkommen, Jesus lieber Herr
Olivier Messiaen: Le Fils, Verbe et Lumière from Méditations sur le mystère de la Saint-Trinité
Healey Willan: Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue
Marcel Dupré: Prelude & Fugue in A-flat, Op. 36 no. 2
Charles Tournemire: L’Orgue Mystique Suite 24: Dominica infra Octave Ascensionis:
Introit (Exaudi) • Offertoire (Ascendit Deus) • Élevation (Haec locutus sum vobis) • Communion (Pater) • Postlude (Alleluia, regnavit Dominus)
Malcolm Williamson: Peace in America
Daniel Roth: Triptyque:
Pour le Nuit de Noël: Veni, veni Emmanuel • Communion • Postlude
Pierre Cochereau: Variations sur “Adeste Fideles” (transcribed by Jeremy Filsell)
The Music on This Recording
by Jeremy Filsell
This recording recalls some of the performers and music featured during the first fifty years of the Shrine’s musical history and is representative of its continuing organ legacy.
The blind French organist-composer Jean Langlais (1907-1991) enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Shrine and the Catholic University of America (where he, along with Messiaen, received an honorary doctorate in 1981) through his friendship with the Shrine’s first music director, Joseph Michaud (1912-1979). Langlais’ initial visit to the Shrine left a lasting impression and when Michaud commissioned him to write a Mass for the Shrine’s tenth anniversary celebrations in 1969, the Orbis Factor Mass for choir, congregation, organs and brass, was the result. At its first performance, Langlais himself played the gallery organ, accompanying the massed military choirs who sang the “people’s” part. In 1975/6, Langlais wrote Trois Esquisses Gothiques, inspired by the Marian devotions embodied in the Shrine and basing much of his writing on the possible antiphony between the Basilica’s two organs. The first Esquisse, Veni Creator – a grand and noble processional – bears an inscription to Langlais’ Parisian colleague Pierre Cochereau (whose music closes this disc’s program), but the second, Virgo Dei Genetrix, is dedicated to Robert Grogan, the Shrine’s organist between 1967-2008. The dialogue-style Séquence pour la fête de la Dédicace honors Langlais’ former student Odile Pierre.
Fernando Germani was one of the outstanding virtuosi of his generation and, between 1931 and 1933, was director of the organ department at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. After returning to Italy, he became the Vatican’s organist in 1948, yet it was he who was responsible for the Shrine organs’ final disposition (the main instrument in the nave and an accompanimental one in the chancel; all previous discussion had centered on the reverse). He was consulted as perhaps the foremost Catholic organist of his day, but it was another ten years before he would play here (8 April 1974).
The Toccata is Germani’s best-known organ work and it leans heavily but happily on a familiar French manner marked by flowing counterpoints and the incessant build-up of rhythmic momentum. In its wistful harmonic hue are found stylistic traces of Vierne, Dupré and Fleury.
Maurice Duruflé came to the Shrine with his wife, Marie-Madeleine (a well-known virtuoso in her own right) to play on 21 October 1966. The music they performed was recorded the following week and this formed the first commercial recording of the Shrine’s organs. Their recording includes the Handel A-major Concerto played on the two Upper Church organs located a city block apart. To overcome the time delay of the space, the Duruflés communicated through telephone receivers secured to their shoulders. Also on this recording, Marie-Madeleine performed her husband’s Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain, his affectionate homage to fellow student Jehan Alain. Both Prelude and Fugue are built around the sequence of notes ADAAF (Alain’s name derived from musical extension of the alphabet), which permeates both the filigree of the Prélude and forms the fugue’s subject.
Belgian organist-composer Flor Peeters made a number of visits to the Shrine after performing one of the dedicatory recitals in 1965. During this concert he played Tournemire’s suite for the Octave of Ascension from L’Orgue Mystique, of which suite he was the dedicatee (see below). Among his own prolific legacy of organ music (often written, like Tournemire’s music, for specific liturgical occasion), is a set of pastiche-style, but contemporary, recreations of the Bachian chorale-prelude idiom. In Von liebe kommt gross Leiden and Nun sei wilkommen, Jesus lieber Herr, Peeters sets an ornamented chorale in customary Bachian texture, with a right hand line contrasted with the freely-imitative counterpoints of other voices. A chromatic quality infiltrates Mit diesem neuen Jahre, a prelude dedicated to Maurice Duruflé.
Olivier Messiaen gave the world premiere of the Méditations sur le Mystére de la Sainte Trinité at the Shrine on 20 March 1972 before an audience of 3000. Stylistically, perhaps as refined and intense as any of his organ works, many listeners were apparently bewildered at the first performance by the Méditations’ unusual formal structure, textural changes, bird calls and dissonant harmonic aura. While it was perhaps not the first occasion on which Messiaen’s music had inspired and shocked in equal measure, the night was a significant one in the Shrine’s organ history. The sixth Méditation (Le Fils, Verbe et Lumière . . .) forms a grand binary structure and utilizes the exultant plainchants for the feast of the Epiphany in a series of bold and dramatic statements. The Gradual and Alleluia are heard in a sequence of unison and harmonized variants and the transcendent climax is marked in the score “with great joy – the Son, resplendent in the Glory of the Father.”
Healey Willan was born in London, England, but immigrated to Canada in 1913 to become the head of the theory department at the Canadian Conservatory of Music. He was later appointed organist at the notably “high” church of St. Mary Magdalene in 1921, a position he retained until shortly before his death in 1968. At St. Mary’s, he set about creating a body of functional music for liturgical use—his substantial legacy—and it is thus only a handful of works which represent higher musical aspirations. Of these, the expansive and ambitious Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue is Willan’s masterwork for organ. Dating from 1916, it emulates both Bachian (fugal, passacaglia) and Franckian symphonic (in choral and gestural “sweep”) practices, bound within a confident Romantic idiom. It apparently resulted from a challenge posed by a friend that none but a “German philosophical mind” could write a truly fine passacaglia; Willan later sent this friend the score with the inscription “To the cause, from the effect.”
Willan delighted in recounting how he wrote one variation on each commuter journey between Toronto and the Lake Simcoe home where his family was residing during the summer of 1916. A rhapsodic and declamatory Introduction gives way to a Passacaglia based on a traditional eight-bar motif. Eighteen variations include a scherzo, a “song-without-words,” and a powerful funeral march. The whispered chorale then precedes a Fugue that takes as its subject the first half of the passacaglia’s theme, and the grand coda features a tutti recapitulation of the passacaglia’s theme. This great Romantic “war-horse” closed American virtuoso Frederick Swann’s dedicatory recital on the Shrine’s south gallery organ on 29 April 1965.
The District of Columbia chapter of the American Guild of Organists brought Marcel Dupré to Washington DC to perform on the Crypt Church organ at the National Shrine on 24 October 1937. Dupré was joined in recital that night by his pianist daughter Marguerite, and together they played his recently-composed Ballade (Op. 30) for Piano and Organ. The program included Bach (Fantasia & Fugue in G, BWV 542), Mozart (Fantasy, K. 594), Handel, Mendelssohn, Reger, Ibert and Sowerby, but Dupré ended it with his own Prélude and Fugue en La bémol (A-flat) majeur, Op. 36 no. 2. The Trois Préludes et Fugues, written for his 1936/7 recital tour in the USA and Australia, adopted strict contrapuntal disciplines that led the composer to note analysis in the printed score – each subject, counter-subject, key relationship, inversion, augmentation and stretto – as well as comprehensive fingering and pedaling. Whilst this might appear an arid exercise, Dupré’s creative personality nonetheless flourishes, particularly in this, the heroic second piece of the set. The Prelude and Fugue are conceived “as one” here, with both movements exploring the same thematic material (in a manner not dissimilar to Duruflé’s Prélude et Fugue). A monumental character is reinforced by “symphonic” registrations, toccata figurations and, in the fugue, strong contrasts between contrapuntal developments and lyrical episode.
Tournemire’s vast, Plainchant-inspired, L’Orgue Mystique comprises fifty-two five-movement suites covering the Mass Ordinary of the entire Catholic liturgical year. In that for the Octave of Ascension (Dominica infra Octave Ascensionis Op. 56), Introit (Exaudi), Offertory (Ascendit Deus), Elevation (Haec locutus sum vobis), Communion (Pater) and Postlude (Alleluia, regnavit Dominus) draw on their respective Gregorian hymns. While L'Orgue Mystique is “functional,” it is also highly spiritual in its gallic-perfumed and “expanded” modality, periodically virtuosic writing, colorful evocation and improvisatory rhetoric. This Suite was performed by its dedicatee, Flor Peeters, in his inaugural concert on the Shrine’s organ on 19 November 1965.
Although Australian composer Malcolm Williamson was a noted organist, he was undoubtedly best known as Master of the Queen’s Music in England from 1975 until his death in 2003. The first foreigner to hold such a position, controversy nonetheless dogged his tenure – notably at his failure to complete an intended Symphony to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. As a composer, his greatest influence was said to be Messiaen, whose music he discovered shortly before converting to Roman Catholicism in 1952. Williamson wrote a number of organ works, including the impressive Vision of Christ-Phoenix (1962), composed for the opening of the new Coventry Cathedral organ (the instrument on which this disc’s performer “grew up”). A set of six Peace Pieces was composed in 1971 in homage to Messiaen. They maintain something of the serialist aura and registrational complexity of Messiaen’s music, and they were premiered by the composer in recital at the National Shrine on 22 October 1971. (The program also included the Vision of Christ-Phoenix). This haunting fourth of the collection, Peace in America, is subtitled, “Sinfonia – the noble struggle towards peace through anguish – flutes sobbing in the air above Arlington Military Cemetery.”
Daniel Roth spent two years as Artist-in-Residence at the National Shrine, 1974-76. After his return to Paris, he served as Organiste Titulaire of the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur before succeeding to the similar position at St. Sulpice in 1985 as Jean-Jacques Grunenwald’s successor. As the present incumbent of this post, he has followed in a distinguished lineage: Clérembault, Séjan, Léfèbure-Wely, Widor, Dupré and Grunenwald. Roth’s Triptyque: Pour le Nuit de Noël was composed in 1993 and it forms a series of improvisatory-style paraphrases on Christmas themes. The first movement translates the nobility of the Veni, veni Emanuel melody into a sequence of irregularly-grouped rhythmic gestures before a long rhythmic and dynamic dissolution. The second piece evokes something of the grand sciècle in its Tierce-en-taille melody-and-accompaniment manner, while the third is a free Toccata-Fantasie with a central climax descending into a calm evocation of the nativity scene.
Pierre Cochereau was Organiste Titulaire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris from 1954 until his death in 1984. He came to perform at the National Shrine on 19 April 1978 and concluded this recital, as he did in virtually all his concerts, with an improvisation (often a fully-fledged symphony or an extensive set of variations). Many of Cochereau’s Notre-Dame improvisations were recorded (and are still available on CD; a considerable recorded legacy in itself) and these stand today as testimony to the formidable and multi-faceted talents of a musician who drew thousands through the portals of Notre-Dame via his music-making. The Variations sur “Adeste Fideles” (1970 – transcribed by Jeremy Filsell) recreates the seasonal Christmas Eve frisson in Notre-Dame, but in their relative brevity (most sets of improvised variations extended to twice the length), present a virtual microcosm of Cochereau’s improvisational traits: the long Introduction climaxing into a hymn-like presentation of the theme; a fanfare for the tutti; a rich harmonisation for Fonds doux; a quasi-canonic movement for reeds en style ancien; a filigree scherzo for Flutes and finally, a fugato which descends rapidly into majestic statements of the hymn, the final stanza of which epitomises Cochereau at his harmonically colorful best.
Jeremy Filsell is one of only a few virtuoso performers on both the Piano and the Organ. He has performed as a solo pianist in Russia, Scandinavia, USA and throughout the UK. His Concerto repertoire encompasses Mozart and Beethoven through to Rachmaninov (2nd and 3rd Concertos), Shostakovich and John Ireland and he is pianist with the Burghersh Piano Trio. He has recorded the solo piano music of Eschmann, Howells, Goossens, Bernard Stevens and the Sonatas of Julius Reubke, but recent projects have included Rachmaninov’s piano music for Signum and two discs of French Mélodies with Michael Bundy (Baritone) for Naxos.
Jeremy Filsell has recorded for BBC Radio 3, USA and Scandinavian radio networks in solo and concerto roles as both a pianist and organist and has a discography comprising over 25 solo recordings. Gramophone magazine commented on the series of 12 CDs comprising the premiere recordings of Marcel Dupré’s complete organ works for Guild in 2000 that it was one of the greatest achievements in organ recording…Filsell’s astonishing interpretative and technical skills make for compulsive listening …truly distinguished, compelling and unquestionably authoritative performances; Filsell has phenomenal technique. In 2005, Signum released a 3-disc set on the famous 1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ in St. Ouen Rouen of the complete organ symphonies of Louis Vierne. These were BBC Radio 3’s Disc of the Week in September of that year. A companion Raven release to this present disc will comprise Bach’s Clavierübung III, recorded on the four organs of the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington DC.
Jeremy Filsell studied as an organ scholar at Keble College, Oxford University with Nicolas Kynaston and Daniel Roth in Paris. He studied Piano and Voice as a post-graduate under David Parkhouse and Hilary McNamara at London’s Royal College of Music before completing a PhD on aesthetic and interpretative issues in the organ music of Marcel Dupré at Birmingham Conservatoire/BCU. Over the course of his career, he has taught piano, organ and academic studies at a number of academic institutions, sung professionally as a lay clerk at Guildford Cathedral and St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, given masterclasses at universities and summer schools in both the UK and USA and has served twice on international organ competition juries. Recent recital engagements have taken him across the USA and the UK and to Germany, France, Finland and Norway.
Until 2008, he held teaching posts at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester but moved to the USA to become Principal Organist at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. He became Artist-in-Residence at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in 2010, combining the post with recital, teaching and vocal work.