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John Kitchen plays the organ of the Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Alfred Hollins (1865-1942)
Triumphal 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)
Praeludium 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)
A 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 Song (1923) [2:30]
Coronation March: Orb and Sceptre
(1953) [8:12]
John Kitchen (organ)
rec. 21 January 2004 Usher Hall, Edinburgh
DELPHIAN DCD34022 [78:08]

Experience Classicsonline

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 recital.
 
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 1905.
 
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 nineteenth century.
 
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.
 
John France

Addendum
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 musical public.
 
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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