John Kitchen plays the organ of the
Usher Hall, Edinburgh Alfred Hollins(1865-1942)
March (1905) [6:38] Edward Elgar(1857-1934)
Serenade for Strings: Larghetto (1892) [4:30] Enigma
Variations: ‘Nimrod’(1899) [3:24] George Frederick HandeL(1685-1759) Deidamia: March (1740?) [2:13] Alcina: Minuet (1735)
[1:33] Rinaldo: March [2:07] ‘Lascia
ch’io pianga’ [3:51] (1711) Scipione: March (1726)
[2:06] Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)
pro Organo pleno BWV 552i (1739) [8:40]
Fuga a 5 con pedale
pro Organo pleno BWV 552ii (1739) [6:42] Franz Liszt(1811-1886)
'Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen,
Zagen’ (1862-63) [15:22] Geoffrey Atkinson(b.1943)
Little Liturgical Suite based on Scottish folk melodies
(1999) [6.39] Gustav Holst(1874-1934) The Planets:‘Jupiter’ theme
(1914-1916) [3:39] William Walton(1902-1983) Facade: Popular
Coronation March: Orb and Sceptre (1953)
rec. 21 January 2004 Usher Hall, Edinburgh DELPHIAN DCD34022 [78:08]
This CD can be listened to as a recital – from
end to end. Unlike John Kitchen’s exploration of the German
composer Johann Ludwig Krebs or the superb cycle of Victorian
Organ Sonatas, this recording does not need to be approached
in a systematic or individual basis. I could never recommend
listening to a series of Preludes, Fugues, Fantasias, Trio
Sonatas and Chorale Preludes without a break for a stretch
of the legs or a glass of Rioja. This present CD lends
itself to sheer enjoyment without having to give it too
much of your undivided attention. But that is perhaps disingenuous.
Each of the works on this CD is impressive and deserves
to be heard with understanding and reflection.
This is an exceptionally well-balanced
programme that truly reflects the nature of a City Hall
organist and instrument. I do understand that there is
always a danger of organ enthusiasts railing against a ‘popular’ programme.
Certainly, I myself have always confessed to being a bit
of a musical snob when it comes to transcriptions and arrangements.
Yet I can overlook any personal snobbery and enjoy this
The programme opens with Alfred Hollins’ fine,
but not so often heard, Triumphal March. It is a ‘swaggering’ work
that makes great use of the heavy reeds and a brief appearance
of the ‘carillon’ which is effectively a peal of bells
but actually made from steel bars. The March is the sort
of work that would have been very popular in the Edwardian
hey-day of big, civic organ recitals: it was composed in
The next couple of pieces are better known.
The lovely ‘larghetto’ from Sir Edward Elgar’s Serenade
for Strings surely acts as a foil to the opening number.
However, this is one of those arrangements that I do have
problems with. The original string-orchestra version is
so near-perfect that it seems such a pity to remove it
from its context. And I feel the same way about the ubiquitous Nimrod.
I can cope with its annual outing at the Cenotaph – as
this is obviously a deeply felt and moving part of the
Remembrance Service for the war-dead. But otherwise, I
do not feel that it should ever be removed from the context
of the Enigma Variations. It is so perfectly poised
between the 8th variation "W.N." and the delicious
Intermezzo: Allegretto for “Dorabella". The arrangement played here is by the
composer and organist W.H. Harris. I do concede that it
sounds superb on the Usher Hall organ!
Just to show that I can be inconsistent
in my snobbery, I believe that the selection of Handel’s
music does bear excerpting and arranging. In fact, as the
programme notes suggest, his music has been transcribed
and arranged since it was first written. A selection of
marches, minuets and songs from four of the composer’s
operas are both entertaining and occasionally quite moving.
The Bach is brilliant. I do not care if
there are some seventy other competing versions
of this work played on anything from a barrel-organ through
to a genuine ‘baroque’ instrument that JSB probably knew
himself. I read with interest John Kitchen’s notes about
whether it is appropriate to play the St. Anne Prelude
and Fugue (or any other piece of Bach) on the Edwardian,
Norman & Baird organ in the Usher Hall. There is a
view that “one should simply not play it at all on an instrument
so far removed in style from those known to Bach...” I
agree with Kitchen’s conclusion that the music always “emerges
triumphant, however one serves it up.” Interestingly,
the so-called St Ann’s Prelude and Fugue are actually
the first and last movements of the Clavierübung Part
III. There is a school of thought that suggests they
should never be played as a pair: nevertheless we are assured
that Mendelssohn himself played them as such – and who
would argue with him – especially when one considers what
he achieved for the reappraisal of Bach’s music in the
John Kitchen follows the Bach with another
fine ‘warhorse’ – the Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen by
Liszt. This, along with his great Prelude & Fugue on
B-A-C-H, is one of the masterworks from a composer more
often associated with the piano than the organ. In fact,
this present work was originally produced as a piano Praeludium
in 1859. It metamorphosed into its present format as a
set of variations for the organ after the death of the
composer’s eldest daughter, Blandine. The work is based
on two Bach themes – one from the 12th Cantata
and the other from the Crucifixus of the B minor
mass. Appropriately Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen is
translated as ‘weeping, lamenting, worrying and fearing’!
It is well played on this recording and forms the highpoint
of this recital.
One of the most interesting pieces on
this CD is the Little Liturgical Suite by the Aberdeen-based
composer Geoffrey Atkinson. This makes use of Scottish
folk-melodies. Atkinson has created a useful suite that
can be used in church as a part of the ‘Mass’ or can be
played at a recital. He uses three lovely tunes that are
derived from the lesser-known Scottish airs – Bonnie
Lass amongst the Heather, I’ll bid my heart be still and The
Trumpeter of Fyvie. They were written for a competition
organised by the Dr. William Baird Ross Trust and were
composed in 1999. The work shows off a number of attractive
soft stops on the Usher Hall organ. It is quite beautiful.
In days when people were a little less
politically correct, the words that were set to Gustav’s
Holst's great ‘trio’ theme from Jupiter were held
in high regard. I recall the hymn ‘I vow to thee my
country’ being sung at the wedding of the Prince and
Princess of Wales in 1981. Since then, it has become fashionable
to ‘vow’ to everyone else’s country except one’s own. Fortunately
these political arguments do not apply to this arrangement
by Eric Thiman. However, I would rather that this ‘extract’ stayed
firmly in place in the orchestral version of the Planets (minus
the spurious Pluto - vide Em Marshall) but I do
concede that it is a crowd-puller and a bit of a ‘pop’.
William Walton is ideal for transcription.
Even the briefest of glances at his catalogue will reveal
a vast number of arrangements of music from Facade.
So, it is perfectly acceptable to have this lovely witty ‘Popular
Song’ as a part of this disc. Kitchen manages to bring
out a touch of the cinema organs which is both nostalgic
and charming. I guess that at a recital he would probably
play this as an encore rather than the penultimate piece.
The final number on this disc is reserved
for Walton’s wonderfully regal Coronation March: Orb
and Sceptre. This fine work was written for the Coronation
in 1953 and follows the path beaten by Elgar’s Pomp
and Circumstance Marches and the composer’s own Crown
Imperial written for King George VI’s Coronation in
1937. Whatever my views, or the reader’s views are about
arrangements, this particular one works. And it is absolutely
perfect for this organ in particular. It is easy to be
snooty about the ‘ceremonial’ works of Walton and Bliss – but
the bottom line is that this one, in particular, is both
magnificent and spine-tingling. It is a great finish to
a very well balanced recital.
There is no need to give a detailed review
of the excellent organ in the Usher Hall, as it is well-described
in the programme notes. However a couple of points will
be of interest. Firstly it was completed by Norman & Beard
in the days before the start of the Great War: it is a
classic example of an Edwardian instrument. The subsequent
rebuild in 2003 by Harrison & Harrison has retained
the original pipe-work and has not led to a major re-voicing.
So, the organ sounds more or less as it would have done
at its inaugural recital. There are four manuals, a powerful
pedal department: the stops embrace a number of ‘orchestral’ sounds
including the above-mentioned carillon.
I understand that this CD is a reissue
of a previous Delphian release, as I have found a slightly
different track-listing on the Internet along with a different ‘sleeve’ picture.
However, whatever the recording’s history, this is a great
CD and deserves to be popular with organ ‘buffs’ and those
lesser mortals who simply enjoy a good selection of tunes,
brilliantly played on a magnificent instrument.
I ought to add that I have known John Kitchen since my school days. He was three
years or so above me, and I first remember seeing him playing for a Christmas
Carol concert. I was singing in the Senior Ensemble at that time. He was a regular
star-appearance at various school concerts and performances of the annual Gilbert
and Sullivan operas.
John encouraged my interest in music. He introduced me to organ works by Bach
that went far beyond the ‘famous’ D minor ‘T&F’. I recall him enthusing
about Berlioz’s Trojans, Wagner’s Tristan and Vaughan Williams’ Oxford
Elegy. It is this last work which has remained a favourite of mine over the
last 36 years. I have never taken to the first two!
I have followed John’s career as recitalist, teacher, professor,
musicologist, music editor and recording artist with interest,
although I have only met up with once since leaving school.
Perhaps his greatest gift to me was his interest in the
French composer Armand-Louis Couperin. Not for the music
of this particular individual, but for opening my eyes
to the potential of composers who are little-known to the
I would never have imagined back in 1972, when I was sitting
somewhere in the second tenors in my school uniform and
listening to John playing, that I would one day write a
review of a recording of one of his fine recitals …
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