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Restored to Glory - The Organ of Birmingham Town Hall
George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Organ Concerto No 16 in F major (c.1740s), four movements in solo organ reductions by Marcel Dupré arranged by Thomas Trotter [10:07]
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Variations on a theme of Paganini (24th Caprice for solo violin) arranged for solo organ pedals by George Thalben-Ball [7:34]
George THALBEN-BALL (1896-1987)
Elegy for solo organ (1944) [4:49]
William Thomas BEST (1826-97)
Concert Fantasia on a Welsh March (Men of Harlech) for solo organ (second of set of four Concert Fantasias) [11:06]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Villanella for solo organ (1904) [3:56]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Suite from opera Carmen (1873-75) transcribed for solo organ by Edwin Lemare [11:31]
Edwin H. LEMARE (1865-1934)
Andantino in D flat major for solo organ [4:05]
Rondo Capriccio (A Study in Accents) for solo organ [3:36]
Concertstück (Concert Piece in the form of a Polonaise) for solo organ [7:21]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Overture to opera Rienzi (1838-40) transcribed for solo organ by Edwin Lemare [11:48]
Thomas Trotter (organ)
rec. 28-29 July 2007, Birmingham Town Hall, England. DDD

This 2007 commemorative recording is the first recital produced on the recently rebuilt 1834 organ at the magnificently-restored Birmingham Town Hall.
The impressive Roman Revival civic architecture of Birmingham Town Hall houses the specially commissioned, public-funded instrument, that was, at the time of completion in 1834, the largest organ in England. Constructed by organ builder William Hill the instrument has four manuals and a complete set of pedals. Visually spectacular the massive 32-foot pipes were integrated into the ornamental front casing originally decorated by Crace of London. The excellently presented booklet for this CD provides several splendid colour photographs together with a detailed history. Over the years many renowned organists have performed recitals on the William Hill organ the most famous being Mendelssohn in 1837.
Birkenhead-born Thomas Trotter is one of the world’s most eminent organists and has held the post of City Organist at Birmingham since 1983. He is the seventh holder of the position succeeding the Australian-born Sir George Thalben-Ball. A player highly in demand as a soloist with leading international orchestras, Trotter was a student of Ralph Downes at the RCM and an organ scholar at King’s College, Cambridge where he received tuition from Gillian Weir.
For this recital Thomas Trotter has selected an accessible and eclectic mix of ten scores. Avoiding the more obvious, the programme ranges from the Baroque of Handel, through the Romantic period of Paganini and Wagner, and on to late-Romantic twentieth century composers. The programme employs pared down arrangements of orchestral and operatic scores written specifically to the solo organ.
The recital opens with Trotter’s arrangements of four of Marcel Dupré’s six reductions of Handel’s Organ Concerto No 16 in F major. The work opens with a very brief Ouverture of a ceremonial quality; followed by a vibrant Allegro; a restrained Andante and a short but colourful March.
Thalben-Ball was a British pianist, organist and church musician of Australian birth. At fourteen he attended the Royal College of Music, studying with Walford Davies and Walter Parratt. He was evidently one of Parry’s last pupils. The holder of several prestigious academic positions and organ appointments Thalben-Ball became a renowned international recitalist. He was the soloist in the first English performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 that was held at the RCM.
Few could fail to be entertained by Thalben-Ball’s arrangement of the Variations on a theme of Paganini from the 24th Caprice for solo violin. The eleven short movements, played on the organ pedals, pertinently display the spirit of the Paganini’s virtuosity. The Elegy for solo organ (1944) started life as an improvisation after a broadcast Evensong at the Temple Church. One senses that the writing of this solemn and poignant hymn-like work is influenced by the horrors of the Second World War. The Elegy was one of several of pieces played at the funeral service of Princess Diana of Wales at Westminster Abbey in 1997.
William Thomas Best, the English organist, composer and arranger, was generally regarded as the finest organist of the British Town Hall tradition. Best successfully developed an international reputation as a much admired and extraordinary virtuoso player. From Best’s set of four Concert Fantasias his substantial Concert Fantasia on a Welsh March is based on the traditional Welsh tune Men of Harlech. Trotter’s playing passionately evokes a helter-skelter ride of colourful amusement combined with strong nationalistic fervour.

One might generally associate the Cheshire-born Ireland, a student at the Royal College of Music who studied under Stanford, with more serious compositions than the Villanella. It is strongly redolent of the salon.
The English-born organist and composer Edwin Lemare, a student of the Royal Academy of Music, chose the USA as his adopted country from the early nineteen hundreds. Lemare is represented here by two transcriptions and three original works. The syrupy Andantino in D flat major is Lemare’s signature piece; a perennially fresh score evocative of Edwardian wakes, weeks and theatres at the end of the pier. The score was successfully set to music with the words ‘Moonlight and Roses’. Next, the Rondo Capriccio (A Study in Accents) is a score that occupies a similar world to that of the Andantino. By contrast the dramatic and robust Concertstück (Concert Piece in the form of a Polonaise) is made of stronger stuff.
Lemare has prepared a transcription of the suite from Bizet’s enduringly successful Carmen. With Bizet’s greatest hits, such as the Habanera and the Toreador’s Song all included this appealing Carmen transcription is guaranteed to please. Trotter concludes his recital with Lemare’s transcription of Rienzi. This is a magnificent work that feels as if it has been hewn from granite. The remarkable hymn-like Rienzi’s prayer is memorable and stands out for its innate appeal.
Regent Records are to be congratulated on this superbly presented disc with annotation and photographs that put many of the premier labels to shame. The Birmingham Town Hall has enviable acoustics which have been superbly captured with the commanding William Hill organ sounding opulent and colourful. There’s inspired and assured playing from Thomas Trotter who conveys an instinctive feel for the music. Containing many gems of the repertoire this disc will reward the specialist and casual listener alike. One of the finest organ recitals that I have heard.
Michael Cookson

see also review by Chris Bragg 


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