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Philip Scriven - Piping Hot
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Variations on America [8'57]
Joseph BONNET (1884-1944)
Elfes [3'37]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Prelude, Fugue et Variation [10'18]
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Scherzo (Symphony 2) [4'03]
Simon PRESTON (b.1938)
Alleluyas (1965) [5'13]
Oskar LINDBERG (1887-1936)
Gammal fabodpsalm [4'35]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Transports de joie (L'Ascension) [5'04]
Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991)
Cantilene (Suite Breve) [5'20]
Patrick GOWERS (b.1936)
An Occasional Trumpet Voluntary (1995) [2'55]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981) arr. William Strickland
Adagio for strings [8'36]
Jehan ALAIN (1911-1940)
Litanies [4'26]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Prelude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain (1947) [11'55]
Philip Scriven, organ
Rec. Lichfield Cathedral, 25-26 May 2004. DDD
REGENT REGCD210 [76'01]

 

 

The organ at Lichfield has an interesting history. Essentially the work of William Hill dating from 1884, but interestingly containing a considerable amount of pipework from a previous instrument by the remarkable George Holdich, it was rebuilt in 1974 by Hill, Norman and Beard. The latter rebuild, although typical of work at the time, was controversial in its neo-baroque-ing of some sections, (notably the Choir) and the replacement of the Hill pneumatic action with a electro-pneumatic system. The results of the latter decision reputedly reduced the then Cathedral organist, Richard Greening to tears when he appreciated what his judgement had cost the instrument. It was substantially rebuilt in 1999-2000 by Harrisons, returning something of its pre-1974 character - though not the pre-1974 action. The aural result is grand, improbably English, and desperately deserving of a better acoustic than that afforded by Lichfield's marvellous 13th/14th century Cathedral, the remarkable dryness being a result of the peculiarities of the local stone.

Philip Scriven, the new Cathedral Organist has one of the more unusual CVs in the English circuit. After his British education at Cambridge and the RAM, he went first to Vienna to study choral conducting, then to the Juilliard School in New York to study orchestral conducting. I expected great things therefore from his music-making on the present release.

Unfortunately I was consistently disappointed despite Scriven's immense virtuosity. The first problem is one of programming. There are simply too many short pieces, (loud/soft/loud/soft etc etc), with too little substantial repertoire. Secondly, the repertoire, while working well on the organ, is hardly the optimal literature to show it off - not a note of 19th century English music. Certain English Cathedral organs handle French Romantic/20th century literature better than others; apart from Gloucester and Blackburn think also of  the Father Willis (e.g. Lincoln) and T.C. Lewis (e.g. Southwark) instruments; Lichfield however is too 'smooth'. Thirdly, Scriven's playing lacks identity and is too often wooden. The Ives is curiously humourless, and the Franck lacks unity while the outer sections are far too 'quaver for quaver' for the 9/8 time signature. Readers might like to listen to Jeanne Demessieux on the disc I reviewed last week to appreciate the difference, it’s not simply a question of tempo! Elsewhere Transports de joie is too quick, especially the last section, to appreciate the harmonic progressions essential in Messiaen's writing. This is real 'electric action' organ playing for me. And, if you MUST play the Barber on the organ, please play it on an organ in an acoustic and with a larger variety of string colour than is available here.

The booklet is substantial, but contains an error, Duruflé died in 1986 and not 1981 as stated.

I appreciate completely that the genre of 'bookshop' CD has to have a certain amount of tourist-appeal. However this can be done far more cleverly than it is here. There is too much French music, played with too little flexibility on an organ which inhabits a different ethos. Other listeners may be astonished at my criticisms citing, rightly, the technically flawless, and sometimes exciting playing of Scriven. But in an age when the organ CD market is swamped more than ever before, one has to offer so much more in order to make a really distinctive recording.

Chris Bragg

 

 

 



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