Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Sir Edward ELGAR
Organ Sonata, Vesper Voluntaries,
'Organ Sonata No. 2' arr. Ivor Atkins from the Severn Suite,
'Nimrod' from the Enigma Variations (transcribed by Hugh Davies)*
Imperial March (transcribed by Simon Lindley)+

Donald Hunt at the Worcester Cathedral organ
* Hugh Davies at the Carlisle Cathedral organ
+ Simon Lindley at the Leeds Parish Church organ
REGIS RRC 1001 [68:28]
From around £6 at retailers

Elgar wrote little music for the organ, the well known Sonata from 1895 was his major essay for the instrument, whilst the 11 Vesper Voluntaries begun in 1889 were composed for a small organ he had installed in 'Oaklands', a London home he inhabited briefly that year. Jerrold Northrop Moore in his Edward Elgar A Creative Life tells us simply that 'In the first days of January 1890 the Vesper Voluntaries were finished and sold to Orsborn & Tuckwood for £5.' Regis omits to tell us anything about the Voluntaries in its booklet notes.

The Sonata is therefore a relatively early piece written during the composer's period of growth between the 1892 Serenade for Strings and his breakthrough work The Enigma Variations of 1899. Like much of his music, the Sonata was written in great haste and the first performance, by all accounts, was something of a shambles. Nevertheless it is a fine four-movement work fully exploiting the tonal variety of the instrument and contains many fingerprints of the mature Elgar to come, especially the symphonies.

It was composed at the request of Worcester Cathedral's organist Hugh Blair and the great advantage this recording has over others is the use of the same organ by a later Director of Music at Worcester, Dr. Donald Hunt, who took up the position in 1975. Fortunately Hunt gives a very fine performance indeed and the recording (most likely analogue - Regis is silent on the subject of the original Alpha Records recording dates) is dynamic, forward and exciting.

Twenty years later, in 1915, Elgar composed his music for The Starlight Express. A theme from the second movement of the Organ Sonata appears to be quoted by the composer - in the music for The Organ Grinder! Or is this just my imagination?

The earlier Vesper Voluntaries are much slighter pieces but display considerable charm throughout. Hunt is assiduous in reducing the range of timbre and dynamic of the Worcester organ to match the scale of the original smaller instrument on which they were composed.

The remaining 24 minutes of this CD are not original Elgar works for organ. The so-called Second Sonata was an arrangement by Blair's successor at Worcester, Ivor Atkins, of Elgar's Severn Suite. Although not a true sonata in form, Atkins' arrangement, made with the composer's approval, works extremely well and provided a much-needed outlet for Elgar's music which had become increasingly neglected at the time of the first performance in 1933. Again Hunt plays superbly.

To make an acceptable playing length for this CD, Regis has also licensed two additional tracks from Alpha Records. Davies' Nimrod is not quite so well recorded as the Sonata, but at its swifter than usual pace it avoids sentimentality. Lindley's Imperial March transcription ends the CD in fine style.

As noted above, Regis needs to be much more careful over its printed matter - at one point in the notes the organists Blair and Atkins appear to have become a new portmanteau musician Blair Ivor Atkins (Atkins is meant here). Also the new company has failed to protect its copyrights with c and p symbols. A potential shame, as the music on this CD is very well worth protecting.

Simon Foster

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