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Jennifer BATE
Organ music of Jennifer Bate
Jennifer Bate (organ)

Many members know Jennifer Bate as a remarkable organist whose celebrated recordings of Messiaen's organ music are milestones in this composer's discography. She has also recorded a lot of British organ music, most outstanding being her six CDs, recorded some years ago for UNICORN.

Bate is also a composer of no mean achievement as the present release demonstrates. Her organ music may not be as startlingly innovative as, say, Messiaen's but it is superbly crafted, colourful, quite effective though it may not always be easy to play. It is clearly the work of a composer who has a deep understanding of the instrument and who knows how to bring the best out of it.

The short and brilliant Toccata on a Theme of Martin Shaw was written in 1972 and was Jennifer Bate's first published work; a piece that should find a permanent place in the organist's repertoire of short virtuoso works either as recital opener or encore.

Introduction and Variations on an Old French Carol (1982) is "a miniature demonstration of the tonal resources [of the organ]". The five, concise and contrasted variations display the instrument's numerous resources and, as such, the piece might have been titled "A Young Person's Guide to the Organ".

We are not told when the Four Reflections were written nor if they were written as a set. However these four pieces (Reverie, Norwegian Barcarolle, Cantilena and Pastoral Palindrome) are quite enjoyable and have become a favourite of mine.

Homage to 1685 won the prize, sponsored by The Carnegie Trust in 1985, for a composition to celebrate the tercentenary of Bach, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti. Originally the suite had six movements and we are not told what happened to the two movements dropped in the meantime. The first movement Moto Perpetuo based on the well-known BACH motive is followed by a lively Gigue on a Theme of Scarlatti. The slow movement, which does not seem to borrow any material from any of the three composers, is just content to sing along and is then followed by a Postlude on a Theme of Handel (in fact the so-called Harmonious Blacksmith) which brings the work to a brilliant conclusion. This superb piece is by far the most ambitious work in this collection and should be eagerly taken-up by organists willing to explore some new repertoire. Many of Jennifer Bate's works were either written for or prompted by friends. This is the case with Il Filatoio, An English Canon (or Canone Inglese per la Festa di Garbagna to give it its full title) and the simple, yet deeply moving Lament.

This release closes with yet another example of that much favoured organ genre, i.e. a set of variations. The Variations on a Gregorian Theme are based on a plainsong for Vespers, first Sunday in Advent Conditor alme siderum. There are six contrasted variations of which the last is a homage to Percy Whitlock "deliberately imitating the way he wrote". A quite effective piece.

I believe that Jennifer Bate's music should appeal to organists willing to investigate some new, accessible repertoire but the quality of the music is such that it should also appeal to anyone simply enjoying well-crafted, colourful and tuneful music. This is not only for organ buffs! Needless to say Jennifer Bate's performances are superb and receive a beautiful recording. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot

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