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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Gillian Weir on Stage
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Variations on America [7:58]
Jean-Francois DANDRIEU (1682-1738)
Three Noels: Or Nous dites Marie [2:14]; Puer nobis [1:29]; Ou s’en vont [4:58]
J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
Praeludium et Fuga in C BWV 547 [9:56]
Jules GRISON (1842-1896)
Toccata [6:57]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Fantasie und Fuge in D moll opus 135b [16:29]
Marcel DUPRE (1886-1971)
Variations sur un Noel [11:39]
Guy BOVET (b. 1942)
Trois Prelude Hambourgeois: Salamanca [5:38]; Sarasota [6:14]; Hamburg [5:15]
Gillian Weir (organ)
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 3-4 June 2005. DDD
PRIORY PRCD 866 [79:58]

 

Following her wonderful disc for Priory of the newly restored organ at the Royal Albert Hall, Gillian Weir is here featured at another London concert hall, playing an organ with which she has long been associated.

That the organ in the Royal Festival Hall was to have such a profound and extensive influence on organ building and playing in the UK in the second half of the 20th century I think says a lot about Britain and its conscience-crisis which the post-war organ reform movement across Europe caused. If taken in a European context the organ is not especially remarkable. Marcussen had already built a large concert hall organ in Copenhagen which, unlike the London organ, even had mechanical action, and would build their significant organ in Utrecht just two years later. Metzler would shortly build their instrument at the Grossmunster in Zurich. One should not think that the RFH organ was at the cutting edge of the reform movement, even if only because it had to do too many traditionally 'British' things. Its builders, Harrison and Harrison were forced to work so far outside their usual practices that they more or less disowned the instrument.

But I don't want in any way to denigrate the quality of the instrument. It is the uniquely singular vision of the genial Ralph Downes. Its gargantuan proportions, (103 stops!), eccentric layout and complex tonal design, (please read Downes's book, 'Baroque Tricks' for a full and fascinating insight into the organ's creation) make it, still, a compelling entity despite the hall's notoriously unfavourable acoustics. The organ, and the hall are now in the process of being renovated, and the acoustics will  be improved. The layout of the organ is also going to be adapted, but tonally, thankfully, no changes will be made.

This recording is, therefore, a historic sound document of the instrument in its original setting. Gillian Weir played her first concert at the RFH in 1965, so she knows the organ well. She delivers here a performance of extraordinary panache, control and musicality; the organ could not wish for a better advocate. The Ives is delivered with humour and swagger, the Dupré is breathtakingly good; virtuosic, sweeping, sometimes even, despite the setting, atmospheric. The control and delivery of the Reger is staggering. For me, the baroque music works rather less well, the Bach for example is a bit cold and requires a better quality chorus. The Toccata of Jules Grison, one-time organist of Reims Cathedral, is rather vapid. And while I find the second and third of the Bovet Preludes spot-on, the fast and rather unyielding approach to Salamanca is really a long way from the zany surrealism of Bovet's own recording from Salamanca Cathedral.

But putting my slight preferences aside regarding certain performance aspects, this is a really top-notch recording. Priory have included one of their best booklets, with extensive programme notes by the ever-eloquent Weir, and a lengthy essay on the future of the organ by its curator William McVicker. But once again it is the sheer brilliance of Gillian Weir which, above all, makes this an essential purchase.

Chris Bragg

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