"Jennifer Bate is an excellent organist, not only for her virtuosity, but
for her musicianship and sensitivity in choosing her timbre. She loves what
she plays and knows how to make others love it too". (Olivier Messiaen)
Given such praise from the 20th century's greatest composer of organ music,
Jennifer Bate seems scarcely in need of further bouquets from me, but it
is a special pleasure to review her performances of native British composers
in contrast to those of Messiaen's inspired outpourings. Not that there is
any lack of inspiration in the case of Elgar's Sonata No. l with which the
programme opens. It is performed on the organ of the RAH, a sumptuous picture
of which adorns the CD cover.
Curiously in 75 minutes of virtually unalloyed enjoyment, my only reservation
concerns the first movement which, majestic though it is, lacks clarity in
places. After that, all is sweetness and light; glowing and well-integrated
colours in the middle movements; jaunty, bandstand articulation in the Finale's
2nd theme, and a thrilling grandstand finish in the last stringendo furlong.
Surely Elgar would have approved!
As for the rest, as the Americans so intransitively say, enjoy! I found the
soft pieces charmingly portrayed - a Stanford Prelude, Wesley's
Holsworthy Church Bells, Rhosymedre, and Solemn Melody.
On a larger scale there is Parry's G Minor Fantasia and Fugue and
Wesley's Introduction and Fugue. But Elgar has the last word in a
stirring Imperial March, which, give or take a largamente or
so, could scarcely be bettered.
Organists will revel both in the colourful splendour of the playing, and
the three featured instruments, RAH, St. James', Muswell Hill, and St. Andrew's,
It is perhaps of interest here to recall that Ravel described Elgar's music
to RVW as 'tout 'a fait Mendelssohn'. Students of British music may be interested
to trace the influence of the admired 19th Century European organist-composer
in this programme right up to RVW himself.
An enthralling recital persuasively and authoritatively played. Realistic
recording. Well judged tempi. What more could you want. Read on!
and a review of the same disc by Rob Barnett:-
The ELGAR Organ Sonata is a regal (an anagram of Elgar of course) study for
a symphony - or so it seems in character. In fact it has been given the symphonic
treatment in an orchestration by Gordon Jacob. This was recorded some years
ago on EMI and conducted by Richard Hickox, I believe. Of the four movements
the subtle allegretto and the leaping final presto are the
most immediately affecting. The disc is rounded out and topped off by the
blowsy and slightly clouded pomp of ELGAR's Imperial March - better in orchestral
garb, I have to say.
S.S. WESLEY's very low profile Holsworthy Church Bells hardly registers
at all and by its side the WESLEY Introduction and Fugue is positively
imposing. STANFORD's Gibbons prelude and Postlude is followed by the
Dvorakian Andante Tranquillo from the same set. The final allegro
non troppo is jolly.
WALFORD DAVIES' famous A Solemn Melody (1908) (here in arrangement
for organ alone) is suitably meditative. Ms Bate is very good at this mood.
Contrast is the keynote of all three of these discs so it comes as no surprise
that after the cloisters comes the big and burly PARRY Fantasia and Fugue
(1913). VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Rhosymedre is done with all the melodic
casualness of Gerald Finzi.
The recording technicalities are well judged and they communicate, apparently
unalloyed, Jennifer Bate's sensitive and above all subtle artistry. An
attractively priced (bargain range) issue. Long playing time. Good notes
by Ms Bate. A well-balanced recital with mix of familiar and unfamiliar.