Any organ recital has to do at least two things. Firstly
there needs to be a healthy balance of music - old favourites and lesser-known
works need to complement each other. The ‘Big Names’ of the organ world
need to be represented alongside those composers of lesser renown. Secondly
the power and the specification of the particular organ need to be revealed
in a good light. The present recording fulfils both these criteria.
We have a fine programme of original works and one or two lesser played
transcriptions. A nice balance is struck between classic heavyweights
such as Bach and pieces by more modern composers like Francis Jackson.
We have intimate works in the Delius, studies in organ action such as
the Whitlock Scherzetto and war-horses like the Widor Finale
from the 6th Symphony. These are all played on the
fine four manual Father Willis organ at Salisbury Cathedral. Like all
good organ CDs the pipe rack specification is given in the programme
notes. It is not necessary to outline the details here. However, it
is important to realise that this particular organ, built in 1877, is
a near perfect example of an English Victorian Romantic Organ. The importance
of the present CD is that what we hear is a sound virtually identical
to that conceived by the builders 130 years ago. It is the kind of tonal
adventure that would have impressed Edward Elgar and Basil Harwood (1859-1949)
It is not really necessary to give details about each
composer and his works as represented here. However a few comments may
not go amiss. The Elgar Imperial March has been transcribed for
the organ by George Martin, one-time organist at St Paul's Cathedral.
The original work was written for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in
1897. It has all the features that Elgar was to make popular in the
much more famous Pomp and Circumstance Marches. Herbert Howells
was an assistant organist at Salisbury for a short time. His Rhapsody
No.3 is one of his most intense and turbulent works. It was written
in York during a Zeppelin raid. In some ways it appears to be ahead
of its time, the excessive chromaticism giving it a more 'modern' flavour.
Intimacy is provided by the attractive arrangement of Delius's On
Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. This was transcribed by his
amanuensis Eric Fenby from the first of the Two Pieces for Small
Orchestra. It is an ideal piece to show off the organ’s delicious
string sound. The Jig by John Gardner from his Five Dances
is a fun piece that is more 'popular' than the composer perhaps intended.
Fu though it may be, it still sports lots of interesting changes in
registration. I was amazed just how many works this composer has produced.
Opus 179 in 1988! We will pass over the Liberty Bell March by
John Philip Sousa, save to point out that earlier generations of organ
recital goers would have expected these lightweight classics. It certainly
provides a nice contrast to the Bach and Dupré!
The programme notes annoyed me a teenie bit on the
Bach. Not about the fine and moving Fantasia and Fugue in C minor
by JSB. Nothing to complain about here - an excellent performance
of this great work. It is the comments about Sir Edward Elgar that irritated
me. Elgar did not cease to compose after his wife's death in 1920. True
he did spend much time arranging works by Bach (including the present
piece) and Handel. But this was also the time of the 2nd
Organ Sonata, the Third Symphony sketches and a number of
charming miniatures including the Severn Suite, the Nursery
Suite and Mina. Not all great works perhaps, but certainly
not lacking in inspiration.
The two challenging works on this CD are the Marcel
Dupré and the Francis Jackson. Dupré holds a commanding
place in the history of organ music - both in France and elsewhere.
He studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Widor. The piece presented on
this CD is the World awaiting the Saviour, from his Symphonie
Passion Op.23. This work was originally improvised in the United
States and was later committed to manuscript. It is a huge piece that
tests the organist's skill and the resource of the instrument. I hasten
to add that the Willis organ copes admirably with this important work
- as does the organist.
The longest work on this CD is Francis Jackson's Toccata,
Chorale and Fugue Op.16. It is a work that is in many ways untypical
of the era in which it was written. The programme notes suggest it owes
much to César Franck. It is certainly not atonal or obviously
serial, although I wonder if there is perhaps some tone row underlying
the structure? It is an extremely attractive and interesting work, that
once again tests the resources of the organ and the technique of the
player. It is one of those works that ought to be played much more often
in our churches and cathedrals. However its scale and complexity probably
means that it will only be aired by the very best of organists. Needless
to say David Halls gives this a fine performance. A great work, well
Percy Whitlock is one of my favourite organ composers.
He combines invention with a certain English reserve. He was never afraid
to use a popular idiom if it served his musical intention. This Scherzetto
is a case in point. Excerpted from his fine Organ Sonata in C
minor, it has certain nods in the direction of the theatre or cinema
organ. This is hardly surprising as Whitlock was organist at the Bournemouth
Pavilion for many years. As a minor digression, if you get a chance
to listen to the Whitlock Organ Symphony - take it. It is one
of the best concerted works of its kind in the repertoire.
Widor is probably best known for the Toccata
from the 5th Symphony made famous at the marriage
of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. However this prolific Frenchman wrote
much else beside this war-horse. He composed ten organ symphonies and
much orchestral music too. However the finale to the 6th
Symphony deserves as much popularity as the better known work. It
is in the form of a rondo and this gives the composer the opportunity
to experiment with a variety of styles and effects between the recurrence
of the main theme. A good piece for showing off the full organ and Willis's
An excellent recital all round. This CD manages to
do what it sets out to achieve-show off the panache of this fine historical