The Father Willis
Organ at Salisbury Cathedral, built and installed in 1876-7
is regarded as one of the finest organs of its period. Its specification
was: “55 sounding stops, 9 couplers, manual compass CC to a’’’,
pedal CCC to F played from a four-manual console contained within
the northern organ case immediately behind and above the choir
stalls.” This CD’s notes include a fully detailed specification
of the instrument.
The organ is ideally
suited to the late-romantic magnificence of Elgar’s music. Elgar’s
G major Sonata was written in 1895 for Hugh Blair, organist
at Worcester Cathedral who wanted to impress a party of “enthusiastic
Americans” on a whistle-stop tour of English Cathedrals. Blair
was a good friend and Elgar was willing to oblige even though
he had only two weeks to comply. Even so he composed this masterpiece
using unfinished sketches to fire his inspiration and delivered
the score to Blair five days before the concert. Alas Blair
was not up to the task and delivered a lamentable first performance.
The music is almost symphonic in concept, proved when Gordon
Jacob made a marvellously effective transcription for orchestra
some fifty years later. This is a wonderfully melodic work.
Thomas Trotter responds to its sweep and grandeur with an eager,
colourful, stylish reading that lifts the spirits.
The Vesper Voluntaries
were written in 1889 when Elgar was struggling quite unsuccessfully,
to make a name for himself in London. This was one of his few
successes. It was written in response to a commission for a
set of organ pieces, seen as a popular series of Organ Melodies
for the amateur Catholic organist. After an Introduction, follow
eight delightful pieces, the Allegretto piacevole and
Poco lento in particular lingering in the memory.
more intimate, Cantique, described by Lady Elgar as a
“beautiful piece from former days” is certainly lovely and it
originated as an 1879 wind quintet.
The remaining works
are all transcriptions for organ by others, recognisable as,
in the main, friends of the composer.
The Sonata No. 2
in B-flat is a transcription, made in 1933, shortly before Elgar’s
death, by Ivor Atkins of Elgar’s Severn Suite but omitting
the original fourth movement and substituting, with Elgar’s
blessing, a retrospective cadenza of Atkins’ own creation. Again
Trotter responds exuberantly to its majesty and chivalry and
with sensitive shading in its more cloistered moments.
The charming salon
piece, Chanson de Matin transcribes well for organ and
Trotter sensitively contrasts a nicely controlled swell with
delicacy. Many might find Trotter’s Nimrod, in W.H. Harris’s
transcription, a tad dispassionate but the Pomp and Circumstance
is regal and exuberant enough.
An exemplary organ
recital, excellently recorded in stylish, colourful, committed
performances taking full advantage of all splendours of the great
Father Willis Organ at Salisbury Cathedral.