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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Lammas Records  

Sounds of Fotheringhay
Christian RITTER (c.1648-1717)
Sonatina in d [4’59]
John STANLEY (1712-1786)
Voluntary in D [6’46]
John TRAVERS (c.1703-1758)
Voluntary in C [3’08]
Francois COUPERIN (1688-1733)
From Messe pour les Couvents:
Plein jeu [1’16]
Fugue sur la Trompette [1’40]
Elevation, (Tierce en Taille) [3’28]
Dialogue sur les grands jeux [1’47]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Unter der Linden Grűne [5’43]
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Ciaccona in e [5’39]
Chorale Prelude, Ein Feste Burg [3’50]
Chorale Prelude, Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott [4’23]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Fugue in G BWV 577 [3’25]
Chorale Prelude, ‘O Mensch bewein’ [6’00]
Prelude and Fugue in Eb – St Anne (sic) [14’34]
Malcolm Archer, organ
rec. St Mary and All Saints Church, Fotheringhay, 26 July 2005. DDD
LAMMAS LAMM 191D [66’44]

 

 

The wonderful 15th century church of Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire, received a new organ in 2000, built by Vincent Woodstock. It is a modest instrument of some 15 stops distributed thus:

GT: 8 8 8 (Dulciana), 4 2 IV 8

SW: 8 4 2,2/3 2 1,3/5

Ped: 16 8 16 (Bassoon)

Conceptually it is difficult to quantify the instrument, and although much is written about it in the booklet, none of it concerns the basic concept. Superficially it seems stuck in the ‘neo-classical plus swell box’ mould typical of the artistic crisis which the vast majority of British organ builders have found themselves in for twenty years or more. Here the inevitable swell box (balanced!) houses just a cornet décomposée! However, I’m happy to report that on the basis of this recording, the conceptual fuzziness proves less important than the fine tonal qualities of much of the instrument. I was especially delighted with the principal chorus; there is a real singing quality to the principals, and the mixture seems very intelligently composed and voiced. The latter stop is calm and never threatens to tire the ear. The plenum is underpinned by an excellent fractional-length pedal reed. The trumpet seems to have too much of a solo characteristic for such a modest scheme. Archer doesn’t use it in the plenum at all (tellingly one suspects), except in the Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux of Couperin where the mixture of course isn’t employed. It proves a pleasing solo stop in the English Voluntaries. The flutes have some real beauty. Perhaps most impressive though, is that Vincent Woodstock has made a winding system which creates a vocal quality I’ve barely heard from a modern British builder! Congratulations!

Malcolm Archer, recently appointed organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, plays a programme of English, German and French music dating from between the late 16th and late 18th centuries. His playing is neat and well-controlled, with some very nice ornamentation. The most successful tracks are the English voluntaries and the Ritter Sonatina, long championed by Gustav Leonhardt, which is presented with a pleasing idiomatic freedom. However in order to become a really first-rate player of this literature Archer needs to become far more aware of the natural grammatical accents inherent in baroque music. His approach can be nicely summarised with a brief analysis of the Buxtehude Ciaconna. Firstly the pedal ostinato is played rather too legato to shape the bar effectively. Secondly his touch is not sophisticated enough for him to avoid the placing of accents on the smaller note-values, especially when the movement is in semiquavers. Here the feeling is very much of six impulses in the bar instead of three - or even one depending on how you look at it. The - unnecessary - manual changes, as throughout the disc, occur with a shortening of the last note before the change, frequently resulting in an accent on a weak part of the bar. I have also some small textual issues; Mr Archer should consult Michael Belotti’s Buxtehude edition.

Elsewhere the grammatical problem presents itself in other guises. During the third variation of the Sweelinck for instance the non-decorated right hand (playing the theme) becomes almost completely legato while the left hand plays the semi-quavers in contrast to the articulation of the theme at the outset. (Track 8, 2’56). Other issues I must mention are the strange added manual change for the third material in the famous E flat Prelude of Bach, and the rallentandos at the end of each section of the fugue which destroy the relationship between the time-signatures. Why, incidentally in 2005 does the English organ fraternity still insist on its silly tradition of giving the E flat Fugue its turn-of-the 20th century nickname based on an erroneous association with Croft’s hymn tune?

In general the surprisingly fine organ makes this an interesting release, and Archer’s playing, whatever my small gripes, presents it well enough; he is after all an excellent musician, and rightly one of the most highly respected figures in English Cathedral music.

Chris Bragg

 

 

 



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