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Peter DICKINSON (b. 1934)
Complete Solo Organ Works
A Cambridge Postlude (1953) [2:45]
Prelude (1954) [2:55]
Postlude on “Adeste Fideles” (1954) [2:31]
Prelude on “Song 46” (1954/5) [2:42]
Prelude on “Song 20” (1954/5) [2:27]
Prelude on “Song 34” (1954/5) [2:49]
Toccata (1955) [3:20]
Meditation on “Murder in the Cathedral” (1958) [5:26]
Study in Pianissimo (1959) [3:21]
Dirge (1963) [4:09]
Three Statements (1964) [6:38]
Carillon (1964) [3:41]
Paraphrase I (1967) [15:16]
Blue Rose Variations (1985) [15:44]
Millennium Fanfare (1999) [2:48]
Jennifer Bate (organs of St John’s Duncan Terrace, St James’s Muswell Hill and St Dominic’s Priory)
rec. 10 May 1982 (St James’s), 17 July 2004 (St Dominic’s) and 21-22 November 2007 (St John’s)
NAXOS 8.572169 [77:42] 


Experience Classicsonline

The chronological running order that this disc espouses takes one on a most remarkable aural journey. It begins with apprentice works cast securely in the Anglican organ tradition, through visionary experiences in America, and thence to a kind of pluralist expansion in which technique and ambition are held in perfect equipoise. That is, at least, one way of looking at this highly diverting and engaging disc, which happily gives us Peter Dickinson’s complete works for organ. 

One can feel the filtered influence of Howells, in particular, in the earliest works. It’s true of A Cambridge Postlude though the composer does note the ‘bluesy figure’ in the pedal part. It certainly has confidence and élan from a 19 year old. The Prelude is by contrast a reflective work, conveyed with quiet intimacy and concentration by Jennifer Bate, before we re-gather to experience the brilliant toccata that is the Postlude on “Adeste Fideles”. The Gibbons Preludes have remained unplayed for half a century but that’s no reflection of their musical status. Once again Howells is an influence one feels, especially in the case of Song 46 whilst Song 34 is the most extrovert and celebratory with delicious false relations and – a sheer coincidence, surely – a hint of Malcolm Arnold in ‘whooping’ form. 

There’s more evidence of the strong demands he makes on his executant in the Toccata of 1955, a sonorous and powerful opus. More personal, obviously, is the Meditation on “Murder in the Cathedral” which is a spooky affair, pregnant with portent, raptly atmospheric, and lit by some suitably deft dynamics. From his American period comes The Study in Pianissimo with its serial basis and this prefaces the decidedly gloomy Dirge. This last incidentally, as with a number of other pieces, is being heard here in first ever recordings. 

The second of the Three Statements hints strongly at the powerful jazz syncopations to come but before these are fully unleashed there’s the terrific Carillon to experience. This bell study is a festive feast, exciting and vibrant, with tremendous colour and sense of texture as well as control of volume and a strong sense of spatial separation between the various bells evoked. The two longest works are Paraphrase I which was written in 1967 and then Blue Rose Variations which followed many years later in 1985. Paraphrase I is a work that coalesces amplitude with an almost ’chamber’ delicacy and refinement of articulation – for example the second section [track 16] – and that varies dynamics and moods between the thoughtful and zesty scherzo. It’s highly accomplished and makes for pleasurable listening. Of a more extrovert character is the Blue Rose Variations. Here we find the full flowering of Dickinson’s immersion in older Jazz forms, and he utilises Edward MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose with increasing visceral effect. The opening put me in mind of Fats Waller’s later organ recordings made in London (on EMI’s Compton organ), though tinged with a soupçon of cocktail hour blues. The Fairground meets the Varsity Rag in this variational pleasure ground, full of contrasts and fun and ebullience. There are some strongly ‘comping’ left hand chords [track 30] which have an almost boppish urgency – and then a resplendent ending to conclude a work of good humour and freedom; freedom, that is, from unwanted academic expectations and constraints. Greybeards need not apply; the rest of us can queue. 

But just to show that not all is rosy in the garden we end with the brief but cataclysmic Millennium Fanfare – in which Sturm und Drang meets Til Eulenspiegel, and the thing ends in a blaze of Kubrick. Overwhelming! 

The recording has been gauged to perfection – three organs in three locations, so it clearly demanded expertise in setting up. Talking of expertise Jennifer Bate proves an interpreter of remarkably persuasive skill; sensitive to dynamics, to colouration, to refinement and when necessary, explosively controlled concentration. 

In every way then this is a treasurable disc and full of variety. 

Jonathan Woolf 

see also Review by Hubert Culot



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