> ELGAR Complete organ music Butt HMU907281 [IL]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Complete works for organ:
Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 28 (1892)
Vesper Voluntaries, Op. 14 (1890)
Cantique in C major, Op. 3 No. 1 (1879/1912)
Loughborough Memorial Chime (1923)
Sonata No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 87a (1933) arr. Ivor Atkins

John Butt at the organ of Kingís College Chapel, Cambridge
(recorded July 1-4, 2000)
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 907281 [66:55]


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The sixty-six minutes or so of music on this album represents the sum total of Elgarís work in this genre. The works span the period 1879-1933, practically all of the composerís creative life. Elgar had firsthand experience of this most majestic of instruments for he was assistant to his father who was organist of St. Georgeís Catholic Church in Worcester. Edward himself succeeded to this post in 1885 and remained there until 1879.

Elgarís G major Sonata was written in 1895 and it is his most substantial work for the instrument. The opening Allegro maestoso movement has plenty of colour and drama and John Butt realises its full nobilmente potential. The succeeding Allegretto is more lyrical, in a mood of gentle supplication while the long sweeping phrased Andante espressivo, third movement is cast in that noble melancholy that Elgar made his own. The Presto, finale, combines a scherzo-like texture with a march-like second theme and the movement culminates in a majestic final flourish.

John Butt has also contributed the interesting notes for this album Ė interesting because he writes from the organistís point of view. Writing about the G major Sonata he comments, "In all, the work is one of the most successful Ďorgan symphoniesí of the late nineteenth century, easily rivalling the vast symphonic works from the Parisian organ school of Franck, Widor and Vierne.í

The earliest work in the collection is the Cantique of 1879 (heard here in the composerís arrangement of 1912). Here is another example of Elgarís noble chivalry mixed with piety and a central section that pre-echoes ĎThe Spirit of the Lordí which opens The Apostles. Personally, I think Butt, in his notes, is rather too disparaging of this little gem. He certainly makes it sound more impressive than his prose description would have us believe.

Nine short movements comprise Vesper Voluntaries, published in 1890, and dating from Elgarís first London period when Lady Elgar and himself, newly weds, were living near the Crystal Palace in South London. They reflect something of the experimentation that service accompaniment allowed. All are pleasant, tuneful and they all follow continental models (Schumann comes to mind at various points) rather than the traditional Anglican style. The most impressive piece is the Poco lento, quietly noble, although it sounds a little too reticent in this rendering: I would have liked to have heard more attack.

The Loughborough Memorial Chime originated as a piece for carillon commissioned for a War Memorial opened in 1923. Elgar retained the right to arrange it for organ. This arrangement survived only in sketch form but there was sufficient material to make a convincing piece that combines chimes with a wistful cantilena.

The concert closes with Elgarís Sonata No. 2 in B-flat major that is Ivor Atkinsí transcription of the composerís Severn Suite. Butt comments, "...the block-like chords of the opening Ö [are] so suited to the wind idiom, and the type of attack offered by a large Cathedral organ. The second movement, Toccata, also clearly alludes to Bach and the keyboard tradition, although, in Atkinís arrangement, its rapid figurations seem very reminiscent of the toccata style of the recent French schoolÖ" The lovely third Fugue/Andante movement moves forward slowly through quiet prayer-like introspection to an emotional climax. The eclipsing Coda brings the work to an imposing conclusion. Buttís grand vision of this colourful work generates considerable excitement.

Butt plays these noble melodic works with flair. For the most part, Elgarians will be delighted.

Ian Lace


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