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Organ Dreams Volume 4
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)

Marche du veilleur de nuit (Wachet Auf!) [4'04]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Prélude, Fugue et Variation op. 18 [9'54]
S.S. WESLEY (1810-1876)

Andante in E flat major [4'18]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)

Sicilienne (from Suite op. 5)
Harvey GRACE (1874-1944)

Reverie: 'The God of Love my Shepherd is' [3'19]
Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)

Prière [6'00]
Herbert SUMSION (1899-1995)

Air, Berceuse and Procession [16'56]
Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)

Choral: Was Gott thut das ist wohlgetan [8'53]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen [18'07]
Christopher Herrick, organ
Rec: St Nikolai, Halmstad, Sweden, 2nd, 4th, 5th May, 2004. DDD
HYPERION CDA67436 [78'15]


The astonishingly prolific Christopher Herrick has created a new genre in his ĎOrgan Dreamsí Series; the 'organ mood music' CD. While this fourth volume is sometimes characterised by the slight lack of variety the genre implies, you have to credit Herrick for recording, as usual, interesting unknown repertoire, in this instance on an interesting organ.

Christopher Herrick plays, as is usual with his 19th and 20th century literature, with an excellent sense of panache, line, (listen to the beautiful inflections in the tempo in the outer sections of the Franck, despite the relatively slow tempo) and structure. Some of the music is predictably less interesting, Harvey Grace in particular. I've never rated the Guilmant piece as being among his best. However the highlight for me came from an unexpected source, the virtually unknown Air, Berceuse and Procession of Herbert Sumsion. True, Sumsion's music isn't generally noted for striking originality, but listen to the sheer craft and harmonic sweep of this writing, so (dangerously?) close stylistically to the orchestral music of Vaughan Williams. A nice surprise; I hope somebody records this on a real English organ soon! Elsewhere, I found the Liszt not quite convincing. Despite Herrick's very coherent performance, this needs a bigger acoustic and a less 'smooth' organ. Hans van Nieuwkoop's 1997 recording in Alkmaar still sets the standard here. He is less reliant on constant changes of colour, and the sheer dark beauty of the organ's individual colours, has the effect of rendering that falling bass line and the final emergence of the chorale so much more tellingly inevitable.

The organ is interesting for a number of reasons. The Netherlands is a country where progressively fewer new organs are built all the time, mostly because there are so many fine instruments already here. Therefore, almost without exception, the larger organ building companies, who specialise more and more in restoration, only get the chance to flex their muscles with foreign contracts. However, a significant new (2003) organ from Pels and van Leeuwen raises eyebrows as they are today almost unknown for significant new instruments. In the Netherlands they have a rather mixed history, the result of restorations and generally poor new organs built around half a century or more ago, in the first flush of the neo-baroque. One would struggle to name a beautiful Pels organ! This organ however reflects nothing of their perhaps less distinguished past. In Halmstad they have built a genuinely modern, but still concept-led organ; a miracle these days in mainland Europe. It reflects closely a Cavaillé-Coll specification with perhaps some Mutin alterations; compasses are 61/32. There are wide scale mutations on both Recit and Positif, (Alain and Messiaen both possible here). Two of the three manuals are enclosed. Pels and van Leeuwen clearly had a very firm idea of what they were trying to create and on the basis of this recording they have done it very well. Perhaps tonally the organ is a little neutral; its not as beautiful as a Cavaillé-Coll, or even a Schyven. To be honest it doesn't even sound very French, but the fonds are broad and the reeds blend well. I like the woody Basson-Hautbois in the Franck! The organ sounds very expressive and never overbearing despite the dry acoustic; is the church made of wood? Itís a shame Hyperion couldn't find room for a photo.

An interesting release this. Worth picking up to get to know the Sumsion alone.

Chris Bragg

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